Conquering Those Growing Pains
As every parent knows, childhood is filled with all sorts of maladies, from sore throats and ear infections to broken bones. In the teen years, new dilemmas, like drinking and sex, emerge. Keeping up with the latest advice or treatment is all too often confusing. U.S. News talked to pediatricians, child development experts, and safety researchers to help sort it out. We focused on everyday ailments with new and better remedies-or where conventional wisdom took a flip-flop. No doubt you've heard that a steamy bathroom eases the croup. Now, experts say, a hug does just as well.
Fussy babies and their parents may need a downshifting lesson
Shushing and rocking don't silence the squawker. A midnight car ride is no help. Even parking the bouncy seat on the running clothes dryer was useless. Babies, it seems, just need to cry, and some are fussier than others. A baby who cries more than three hours a day for three days a week is considered fussy or colicky, a phase that usually peaks around 6 or 8 weeks of age. Doctors still don't know if the inconsolable crying is due to physical distress such as excess gas or is just a developmental phase, but about 8 percent of mothers report considerable difficulty calming their babies.
Those days are not without cost. Mothers of finicky babies are far more likely to suffer postpartum depression, according to Pamela High, a pediatrician who directs the Infant Behavior, Cry and Sleep Program at Brown University. High looked at data from an ongoing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study and found that 19 percent of the 2,927 new mothers experienced moderate to severe symptoms of postpartum depression. The depressed mothers were more likely to say their babies were inconsolable, and women with inconsolable babies were more than two times as likely to report depression.
Hands-on lessons can help. Nurses in a study in the March issue of Clinical Pediatrics gave parents four weeks of training in recognizing when their babies were getting tired or overstimulated, then in consistently soothing them by holding the baby upright on the chest and rocking gently. The 64 babies whose parents got coaching cried an average of 1.7 hours less each day than the babies whose parents didn't get the lessons. "If we can catch the baby early, help [him] shift down or take a nap, then that will actually prevent these long crying jags," says Maureen Keefe, dean at the College of Nursing at the University of Utah and the study's lead author.
Even without schooling, things start looking up at about 6 months, when babies outgrow their fussiness. And parents, here's a reality check: "Just like the rest of us, the baby could not be having a good day," says High. "It's perfectly OK to put the baby down for five to 10 minutes and give yourself a break." Often, High says, the child will drop right off to sleep.
Not so fast with the Benadryl