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“The Gripe”: An Integrative Approach to Infant Colic

Lawrence D. Rosen, MD

Babies cry. In fact, crying is considered part of normal infant development. Noted psychologist Gwen Gustafson offers this scientific explanation: “Neonatal crying is a species-specific behavior which achieves its likely evolutionary function (infant survival) by reliably eliciting responses from caregivers.”1 The great behavioral observer Charles Darwin described his own baby’s distress in superb biological detail: “With one of my own infants, from his eighth day and for some time afterwards, I often observed that the first sign of a screaming fit, when it could be observed coming on gradually, was a little frown, owing to the contraction of the corrugators of the brows; the capillaries of the naked head and face becoming at the same time reddened with blood.”2 Harvard developmentalist T. Berry Brazelton observed that the typical baby cries up to 2.25 hours daily,3 supporting current speculation that crying, like most things, exists along a spectrum. Yet, there are those babies (and their families) that seem to suffer more than most; these infants in Darwin’s England were said to have “the gripe.” Today we call it colic. We have widely accepted the “Rule of 3s” definition first offered by pediatrician Morris Wessel in 1954.4 Dr Wessel, who studied infant crying behavior as part of the Yale Rooming-In Project, defined colic as paroxysmal fussing in infancy for more than three hours per day, at least three days per week, for at least three weeks duration. Surveys indicate that up to 26% of infants are diagnosed with colic, 5 making the condition one of the most common reasons for infant visits to primary care practitioners today.

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