The Myths of Colic and Teething

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As a relatively new father I’ve recently been introduced to the notions of “colic” and “teething”. And why do I group these two issues together? Well, read on and find out.

In the first few months of my son’s life he, of course, did his fair share of crying. On one of those days my brother-in-law pointed out that “Oh, it’s probably just a bit of colic”. Being the type of person that I am, I thought that I should look up this thing “colic” and see what it was all about.

It turns out that the medical definition of colic (from Wikipedia) is simply a baby that cries for three or more hours a day for three or more days a week for three or more weeks. Really? So given that these numbers are obviously completely arbitrary (3 and 3 and 3 – a dead giveaway for abritrariness) then colic is clearly just “crying (a lot)”. Odd then, that the medical establishment would come up with a new word for crying. I substituted “crying” into my brother-in-law’s comment that my son was crying: “Oh, it’s probably just a bit of crying”. Hmm, yes, I could probably have worked that one out for myself.

Interestingly, you can also buy a medication for colic (or crying) called Infacol. You have to hand it to the pharmaceutical industry for creating a medication that can cure crying. That must have taken some doing. Not only that but the active ingredient in Infacol is actually Simethcode, an anti-foaming agent also used in some detergents.

“Oh my boyfriend just left me… sob, sob”
“Don’t worry, just eat this anti-foaming agent and you’ll be fine”

The truth about colic is this: parent and doctors love colic. As a parent there’ll be times when your child cries and you don’t know why. Usually it’s fairly easy to read the signs but sometimes you get it wrong and they ball their eyes out for some seemingly unknown reason. The thing is, there’s actually nothing wrong with this. Sometimes we get stuff wrong. We do. It’s just life. And then you try to work out what you did wrong and you try to not do it wrong again next time. We should say “Yeah, our son’s crying a bit. I’m really not sure what we’ve done wrong here but don’t worry we’ll figure it out – he’ll be OK”. Except that most parents can’t say that. They’re so consumed with being “good parents” that they’ll lie through their teeth to themselves and to everyone else to prove that they’re the best parents and that they never do it wrong and that their style of parenting is the best and the most successful. And when they do get it wrong, colic is the answer. Colic is this thing, this “disease”, this “condition”, something that they can blame that’s absolutely, definitely, not their fault. They couldn’t help it. Most children get colic at some time in their lives and they’re far too perfect for their child to be crying for anything else other than a mystery medical condition.

Then they take their child to the doctors. The doctor doesn’t know why their child is crying either. Why? Because modern medical “science” is so far removed from reality that it’s just absurd. The doctor likes to feel important because people come to him for help so he’s desperate to be able to “help” and to show how useful he is. He says “Oh it’s probably just a bit of colic”. “Phew” say the parents. “We thought we were doing something wrong”. “No” says the doctor. “Most children get colic at sometime in their lives”. Not only that, the doctor as got something else: Infacol. This makes him seem even more important. Not only does he have a scientific word for crying he also has an anti-foaming agent.

And so the parents go home with their anti-foaming agent and convince themselves that they’re “sure he’s crying a bit less now” and the doctor relaxes back in his leather office chair feeling all warm and fuzzy inside for helping some more desperate parents. Infacol make another few quid and everyone’s happy. Except the child.

A few months later, my son started growing teeth. “Teething” as it’s called. Less scientific-sounding than colic. A couple of months after that he started waking up in the night and crying. My wife says “I think it’s his teeth”. Well, I hadn’t really considered this before, so I though… “um, well maybe; I suppose it could be.”

Yet over the next few weeks and months I started to doubt this teething theory. For a start, he only ever cried at night. Could it be that his teeth only ever hurt him at night? Unlikely. If his teeth were truly the cause of this crying then surely this would occur during the day too? At least sometimes. But it didn’t. Well what about other evidence? Almost always where there is pain in the body there is an accompanying inflammation, so were his gums inflamed? No. What about touching the site of the pain? Did it hurt when he, say, ate food? No. Or cleaned his teeth? No.

But surely it must hurt when if your teeth are growing through your gums right? I mean, if I stuck something hard, like a tooth, into my gum then that’s going to hurt. Well obviously this is something completely different. Teeth growing through gums not only grow very slowly but it’s a perfectly natural process and would nature really design such a complex organism with such a huge flaw that it spent half of the first two years of it’s life in continuous pain? Unlikely. I remembered back to when I was a child and my adult teeth grew through after my baby teeth. Did that hurt? Not one bit.

Of course we can’t just say that no child ever has tooth pain. I’m sure that most probably have the occasional twinge, especially when a tooth is very close to the surface and covered my just a tiny sliver of gum. The rare few may have a genuine problem and have inflamed gums, probably do to some nutritional deficiency. But all children spending their first two years of life in all this pain. I don’t think so.

The truth is that teething is just the next colic. If you notice, nobody ever talks about colic once a child has some teeth. Why? Because now they have something else to blame. They don’t need colic any more. They have their semi-plausible pseudo-scientific reason as to why they’re still the best parents around, and that’s good enough for them.

The problem with all this stuff is that by blaming a child’s crying on some random nonsense we stop meeting the needs of the child. If you just turn a blind eye to a child who is upset about something because you have a nice fancy label that you can put on it which absolves you of all responsibility then it’s the child that suffers.

As parents, and for our children’s sake, we have to be brave enough to admit that we get stuff wrong. To admin that we’ve caused our children to cry sometimes. To admit that sometimes we don’t know what we’ve done wrong. There is nothing wrong with this. We are not bad parents. We are human beings. Colic and teething are wedges that are driven between us and our children, that separate us from the oneness that we can share with them when we truly listen to them. They are human beings too.

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The Myths of Colic and Teething

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