It's 4 a.m. and your baby's been crying -- and you've wanted to cry -- for three hours. You know this isn't a hungry or tired cry, so something has to be wrong. When crying episodes become chronic, it might be colic, which is more common than you think. "Colic is a factor in at least one out of 10 babies in my experience," says Brooklyn pediatrician Anatoly Belilovsky, M.D. Here's what you need to know about colic to help you and your baby through it.
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Symptoms: Frequent, Drawn-Out Crying Sessions
Babies cry, but it could be colic when crying episodes follow "a rule of three or four," says Brooklyn pediatrician Anatoly Belilovsky, M.D. When your baby's crying episodes last at least three hours and occur at least three times a week for three weeks, it might be colic. Usually, colic stops when Baby's about 4 months, but it can last longer. "There are times that she?s crying two or three hours a day," says Amy Goldsmith, a mom with a colicky baby. "I'll be standing with her, and as soon as I put her down, she'll wake up." Episodes are often predictable.
Symptom: Unexplained Crying
Your baby is eating well, gaining weight properly, and is otherwise healthy -- but won't stop crying. "You start to wonder, is this my child's personality?" says Goldsmith. "I just didn't know what it was. I finally picked up the phone and called the pediatrician because there was something clearly wrong." If there's nothing else physically wrong with your frequently crying baby, doctors will diagnose colic. "Colic, by definition, is crying," Dr. Belilovsky says. "If you find a reason for it, it stops being colic."
Symptom: Intense Crying & Discomfort
Your baby can be fussy, but when he has clenched fists, tensed core muscles, and curled-up legs, colic could be the cause. Most often the causes for colic make your baby's tummy ache. Think of how you might position yourself when you have stomach pain. The tenseness might also be accompanied with intense crying and a flushed face.
Potential Cause: Digestive Problems & Anxiety
Researchers have yet to find a definite cause for colic. The most commonly thought causes involve babies' digestive systems. Gas, acid reflux, and a condition called gastritis -- the inflammation, erosion, or irritation of the stomach lining -- are some of the suspected causes. Dr. Belilovsky says that to diagnose gastritis, doctors will perform an endoscopy, but "very few people like to do that to babies." The Mayo Clinic also cites maternal stress and anxiety as potential causes.
What Doctors Suggest: Hypoallergenic Formula or Breastfeeding
Some babies are especially sensitive to formula. "It's always been known that breastfed children have gotten less colic than children not breastfed," Dr. Belilovsky says. "Anything put in a bottle is second or third best by a long shot." Lactose and/or soy intolerances can contribute to your baby's digestive discomfort. Using hypoallergenic formulas which sometimes eases babies' discomfort.
What Doctors Suggest: Antigas Medicine & Probiotics
Doctors might recommend antigas medicine with feedings. Mylicon and Kids 0-9 Colic Oral Solution are options -- Goldsmith gives her baby Mylicon with every meal to ease colic. Probiotics, which are foods and substances that contain good bacteria, also ease digestion. Infants sometimes don't develop enough probiotics naturally.
What Doctors Suggest: Dill or Gripe Water
Gripe water contains a mix of herbs such as dill, ginger, and fennel. These herbs help calm the stomach. "It's a kind of aroma therapy or taste therapy," Dr. Belilovsky says. "The taste makes them happy, and they fall asleep. It doesn't always work, but it's harmless enough to try." Gripe water is available at drugstores and online.
What You Can Do: Go for a Drive
"My husband and I were at our wits' end," Goldsmith said about a night she took her baby to the hospital. "By the time I had gotten to the hospital, she had fallen asleep. I ended up driving around for two hours because I was afraid she'd wake up." Driving has a soothing effect similar to the sounds of a dryer or vacuum. The car's sounds and rhythmic motion often lull a baby to sleep. "The car ride is not in a textbook," Dr. Belilovsky says. "But it seems to work."
What You Can Do: Keep Trying
Finding a solution to colic is often a matter of finding what is right for your baby. "You just kind of figure it out when she stops crying," Amy Goldsmith says. "It was just trial and error." However, Dr. Belilovsky warns against jumping to conclusions. "Be careful with something that you might think worked," he says. "It might just have been time for the colic to go away."
How to Help Yourself: Understand It's Not Your Fault
One of the biggest misconceptions about colic is that parents are the problem. "Most parents aren't doing anything wrong," Dr. Belilovsky says. "That's just the way some babies are." Still, it's easy to blame yourself for your baby's discomfort. Feeling like you're at fault might cause more stress for you and your baby. Relieving yourself of guilt will make it easier to deal with your baby's colic. "Once the doctor said this isn't her personality and this isn't the world coming back at me, it made it a lot easier because you knew there was an end to it," Goldsmith says. "I became more empathic to her instead of mad at her -- she just didn't feel good."
How to Help Yourself: Take a Break
When you've done everything you can, and your baby's still crying, it's probably time to take a break. You can leave your baby safely in a crib for a few minutes to let yourself cool off. That doesn't mean you are neglecting your child; you'll be doing your baby a favor by blowing off some steam.
How to Help Yourself: Ask for Help
Parenting is a challenge that's only harder when you try to do it alone. Letting someone else care for your baby during a crying episode can give you the rest to rationally deal with the situation. "It's okay to ask for help," Goldsmith says. Also, your doctor is a great source for help.
How to Help Yourself: See the Light
Colic is stressful no matter how you look at it. But it's important to remember there's an end to it. Most colicky babies start crying less around 3 months of age. By 4 months, colic usually stops. The key is to keep a positive outlook. "She wouldn't even get in a car seat before, and now she will," Goldsmith says. "There are little milestones like that. She's starting to smile and laugh, and we can see a little sweetheart in there."
Copyright © 2010 Meredith Corporation.