Colic 101: What It Is and What to Do

Calming Tactic: Follow the Five S's

Some of these techniques might help calm your crying baby while you wait for colic to pass. Just remember that a lot of this is trial and error. "Some babies will respond to many of these interventions, some babies won't respond to any, and a lot of babies will respond only sometimes," says Larry Scherzer, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut Health Center, in Farmington. "Usually by the time you try everything, the baby is old enough that a lot of the crying has ceased."

Follow the Five S's

Babies have an innate reflex that's triggered when we do things that mimic life inside the womb. "It's like an 'off' switch for crying," Dr. Karp says. The Five S's include swaddling, shooshing loudly in baby's ear, swinging baby, allowing baby to suck on a pacifier, and laying her on her side or stomach (across your forearm or lap with her head resting in your hand). "I've never had a child follow the Five S's and not calm down, unless she was ill," Dr. Karp says.

Although Dr. Karp maintains that the calming reflex is best activated when you do all Five S's together, parents also get results by cherry-picking strategies. And you can try endless variations of these rocking, holding, swaddling, noisemaking tactics. Christy Smith, of Jacksonville, Florida, says that all three of her older children stopped crying when she tried this technique: place baby belly down on your forearm, her head resting in your palm, and then gently sway her from side to side while rubbing her back. Smith plans to try this on her 2-week-old if he develops colic. "It gets tiring, but hang on because they usually fall asleep within five minutes," she says.

When her infant daughter Jesse, now 2, routinely screamed from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m., Carla Pennington-Cross found that exaggerated swinging mollified her. "My husband would swing Jesse as far as his arms would go," the Milwaukee mom says. "If someone did that to me, I'd be vomiting. But Jesse would lie there, peaceful in her father's arms until the second the swinging stopped. Then she'd start screaming again." For Isadora Kaye, now 2, being cradled in Mom or Dad's arms while they gently bounced on an exercise ball did the trick. "Bopping her along when you're walking works well, but it gets exhausting," says mom Caroline, of Cold Spring, New York. "This quieted her, and I was able to get off my feet. It was awesome."

Jessica Ziegler, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, used her car seat as a modified swaddle when her son Holden, now 3, was at his most colicky. "He slept better in his car seat than anywhere else," she says. "He didn't have to be in the car, but he had to be in the car seat." And for Andrea Raymond, of Oak Grove, Missouri, an infant carrier was only a starting point for her oldest daughter, Bayley, now 5, who "cried from the moment she was born until she was 3 months." The real magic was noisy vibration -- Bayley slept soundly if she was in her carrier atop a running dryer, with a parent holding her steady.

Other parents have had success with white noise CDs or radio-station static, a running vacuum cleaner, or even the sound of running water in the shower or dishwasher. Though you may find these noises loud, babies find them comforting because they approximate what they heard in utero. "Inside the uterus, noises are louder than a vacuum cleaner," Dr. Karp says.

Good ol' regular music may work too. Shari Smith, an Orlando mom, found she could settle her eldest son, Eli, with the Winnie the Pooh theme song. "His nursery had a Pooh theme, so he had a lot of toys that played the song," she says. "The mobile over his bed played it, too, so he heard it from the time he was born. Because he recognized the melody, he was soothed when we played it or sang it."

For some babies, crying may be curbed simply by holding them as much as possible in a front pack or sling. "Holding and rocking won't spoil the baby," Dr. Karp assures. "In the uterus, babies were held and rocked 24/7, so even if you hold your baby 18 hours a day, which seems like forever to you, it's a significant cutback for your baby." Indeed, a study in the journal Pediatrics found that babies held by their parents for about 16 1/2 hours a day cried half as much as those whose parents held them for about 8 hours daily.

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