The Crying Game: Dr. Bob Sears Tells Mommyish How To Soothe The Tears – Even For Colic

Pacing. Pacing was my response to my daughter’s crying that I just couldn’t seem to soothe. When she had a clean diaper, a full belly and no other obvious things to upset her but was still wailing at the top of her lungs, I paced up and down the hallways of my house. When I was exhausted beyond belief, my amazing father would pitch in and walk for a couple hours with my little girl while I laid down for a quick rest. My little one never had colic, but we still had those times when I couldn’t figure out how to calm down her crying. And those times were horrible.

Crying is a part of parenting a newborn. Possibly, it’s the most stressful part of parenting. But Dr. Bob Sears sat down with Mommyish to tell us all about crying and how new parents can make it through those rough stretches. Even better, he talked to us about new treatments – including one he represents called Colief Infant Drops – to that most stressful of all stressful newborn maladies, colic.

Dr. Bob, as he likes to be called by his patients, comes from a pretty impressive pedigree of pediatricians. Yes, his father is the Dr. Sears, of attachment parenting prominence. Dr. Bob, his two brothers and his parents run Sears Family Pediatrics in San Clemente, California and their online resource for parents, Ask Dr. Sears. Dr. Bob has appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Dr. Phil, and CNN House Calls.

As Mommyish reported recently, new research has shown possible causes for colic, which was once thought to have no treatment other than leaving an infant to cry. It was proposed that a bacteria called H. pylori might be causing intestinal pain in infants. Then, Dr. Sears shared with us another possible cause of the once-inexplicable crying. And actually, it centers around intestinal issues as well. “There’s no one cause of colic, but it’s generally thought to be an intestinal irritation,” Dr. Bob explained to us.

His most recent work has been with Transient Lactase Deficiency, or TLD. This disorder means that the infant can’t digest milk sugars completely. These sugars are found in both breast milk and formula. When left in the intestinal tract, the undigested sugars ferment and turn into gas, which causes bloating and pain for infants. The good news is that there are drop available to treat this issue in a relatively simple matter.

When I asked if Dr. Sears’s work was in any way connected to the H. pylori bacteria idea, he explained that even though they’re both intestinal issues, they’re very different. “H.pylori bacteria can cause chronic heartburn in children and adults. So it makes sense that if a newborn acquires from a parent that it could contribute to colic. However, treatment is pretty intense. It would take 6-8 weeks of antibiotics, as well as 3 months of prescription antacids. That treatment would be very tough on baby’s intestinal system. It’s an interesting theory, but I haven’t explored it.”

So how does Dr. Bob approach colic for his patients, and the parents that are struggling to take care of them? “Well, as a pediatrician, you hate to feel helpless. You want to do something to help. We hate to tell parents that there’s nothing more we can do. So I don’t think that you just call it colic and say the kids will grow out of it in four months.” And we have to remember that for years, that’s essentially what doctors were doing. “Doctors used to tell parents that colic isn’t painful, children are just crying because their brains are immature. Not a single parent on planet that woul agree with that statement. They could all see the pain. Doctors didn’t know how to fix it, so they just try to tell parents nothing is wrong. I encourage parents not to take the “nothing’s wrong” approach.”

(Photo:  lisalucia/Shutterstock)

So would you try switching diets? Cutting out gluten or milk? Keeping a food diary? “Yes, yes, and yes,” Dr. Bob told me. “You can cut out milk from your diet and see if that helps. You can take drops to help with TLD. But really, look for a reason. Try various things to get your baby some relief.”

All this talk about crying and a parent’s response naturally led me to ask Dr. Sears about Attachment Parenting’s misunderstood philosophies about responding to crying. “That’s one of the biggest myths,” he told me, “that attachment parenting says a baby should never cry.” “I would imagine that thinking your child should never cry would put a lot of pressure on a parent,” I offered. And it’s true, we’ve had writers here who struggled with the elder Dr. Sears’s philosophies because of the stress it can place on parents. “It would be put a lot of pressure on parents. And it would be completely unrealistic,” Dr. Bob explained. “But what we’re really saying is that parents should consider their children’s crying as their form of communication. You should try to respond to their crying, find out what’s wrong and help them with that.”

I admitted to Dr. Bob that I remembered hearing, “You should know what your baby’s cries mean,” as a mother and feeling completely inept. I had no idea if one cry meant she was hungry or another meant she was tired. To my surprise, Dr. Bob was right there with me. “I never figured it out either as a father, how to read the cries. That’s when I’d go to my wife. She could tell. But it’s going to be different for every baby. It’s about their personality.” So did I fail as an attachment parent? Not according to Dr. Bob. “It’s just about not tuning the crying out or ignoring it. It’s about being responsive.”

“If your four-year-old needed something and was trying to tell you that, you wouldn’t sit them in their room for a couple hours by themselves. Aside from discipline issues,” Dr Bob explained. “But you’d respond. When your infant is crying, they’re just trying to talk to you, to tell you that something isn’t right.” When explained like that, the attachment parenting response to crying made a lot of sense.

Then, I asked a question that I think Dr. Bob and his whole family have heard plenty. “What about the idea that you spoil your children by holding them all the time, by responding to ever minor cry?” Without a second’s hesitation, Dr. Bob told me, “Things spoil when you leave them alone. When you set them aside and just leave them there, that’s when they spoil. They become responsive when you pay attention.” Being responsive to your child isn’t about spoiling, it’s about establishing communication between a parent and child from the very beginning.

I think the biggest take-away for me as a parent is the fact that our children’s actions have a reason. Even when they’re little, their crying has a purpose and parents need to figure that out. When my toddler acts out, there’s probably a reason that I just can’t see clearly yet. Our children’s actions are a way to communicate. As these new treatments for colic show, even the inexplicable has possible causes now. Parents just have to be open to investigating the issues.

(Photo: Olinchuk/Shutterstock)

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