It can be tricky to know what sets a baby with colic apart from a baby who's just fussy, but it's basically a matter of degree. Because colic isn't a disease, but rather a behavioral pattern of excessive crying (it's defined as unexplained crying for longer than three hours a day, more than three days a week), the diagnosis is very subjective. If you're concerned, consider the following signs:
• Look at your baby's pattern of crying. Many (but not all) babies with colic become predictably inconsolable at the same time each evening.
• Next, look at how your baby cries. Colicky babies often look like they're in terrible pain. They arch their backs and grimace, often seeming to try to crawl right out of your arms.
• Consider how your baby responds to your attempts to soothe her. Colicky babies characteristically don't respond easily to basic attempts to calm them, such as holding and cuddling. This is one of the most frustrating parts of parenting a baby with colic, because doing what comes naturally when these babies cry often only makes them more upset.
If you suspect your baby has colic, talk to your pediatrician, who can help figure out whether your baby's excessive crying may actually be triggered by something else, like reflux or food allergies.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, December 2006. Updated 2009