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Colic Facts

What could cause a perfectly healthy baby to have seemingly violent crying spells? If your baby frequently goes through a fussy period where she screams and cries -- and there's nothing you can do to comfort her -- she may be suffering from colic. Other signs that differentiate colic from ordinary crying include the baby's stomach being enlarged, or the baby passing more gas than usual or extending or pulling up his legs.

If your baby is showing signs of colic, you're not alone. About one in five babies between 2 weeks and 3 months old go through these crying spurts. Colic is not a physical disorder or disease; it simply refers to 3 or more hours a day of continued crying without a visible explanation (such as hunger or a wet diaper).

A baby with colic will often go through his crying spells between 6:00 p.m. and midnight. Of course, that's just when you as a parent are also feeling worn out. While the incessant screaming might make you want to pull your hair out, just remember that this phase won't last forever. Colic usually peaks around 6 weeks and then slowly dissipates -- disappearing by about 3 months of age.

No one knows for sure exactly what causes colic. In fact, the definition of colic says that there are no visible signs of why the baby is crying. But there are several common theories about what may cause these crying spells:

  • Overstimulation: Some experts believe that babies between 2 weeks and 3 months of age cry inconsolably when their bodies are unable to handle all the stimulation around them. This would explain why colic often appears toward the end of the day. After being awake for hours trying to absorb all the sights, sounds, and smells of the world, their bodies have reached their limit. Rather than falling asleep when they're worn out, some babies just cry.
  • Gas: Some babies suffer from enlarged stomachs or increased gas during their crying spells, leaving some experts to believe that it's gas pain causing the screaming. Excessive gas can be caused by lactose intolerance, an allergy to milk, or gas-producing foods passed through the breast milk, such as caffeine, nuts, or some vegetables.
  • Conveyed anxiety: It's not unusual for a new mom to be stressed out and anxious by the end of the day. Some experts believe that it's the anxiety of a mother that rubs off on her baby and causes the baby to be "stressed out" too -- resulting in crying spells.

There is no single treatment that gives relief to all infants with colic. But there are some things you can try until you find the one that works best for your baby.

  • Pace back and forth across the room with your baby in a carrier.
  • Rock your baby.
  • Place your baby across your lap on his belly and rub his back.
  • Put your baby in a swing. The motion may have a soothing effect.
  • Put your baby in his car seat and go for a ride. The vibration and movement of the car often calm a baby.
  • Run the vacuum in the next room or place your baby where she can hear the clothes dryer. Steady rhythmic motion and sound may help her fall asleep.
  • Play peaceful-sounding CDs, such as soothing ocean sounds or soft music.
  • Give your baby a pacifier. While some breastfed babies may refuse it, it will provide instant relief for others.
  • Give your baby infant gas drops.

If you suspect that gas might be causing your baby's colic, there are also some ways to ease the gas buildup in her little tummy. If you're bottlefeeding, try giving your baby soy milk or burping her more often during feedings. If you're breastfeeding, take a look at some of the foods you're eating that could lead to your baby having gas. Common foods that cause gas include cabbage, coffee, onions, chocolate, nuts, and dairy products. It may help to keep a diary of what you eat so that you can make a connection between your diet and when your baby's colic seems to act up.

Colic can be just as difficult for the parents as it is for the babies, so it's important that you take care of yourself too during this trying time.

A parent can be left feeling frustrated and hopeless when she can't seem to soothe her own child. But don't blame yourself or your baby for the constant crying -- it's nobody's fault. Instead, if you find yourself getting stressed out, see if your partner, a neighbor, or a friend could watch the baby for a while. If there's no one nearby who can relieve you, consider hiring a sitter to take over on occasion. Make sure to pamper yourself during this new free time you have. Try taking a peaceful walk or getting in a hot bath. You'll find that you can handle your baby's colic better if you're not exhausted.

As difficult as it may be, try to stay relaxed during your baby's crying jags. And don't forget that she will eventually outgrow this phase. Pretty soon, your baby will be happy and smiling again; and you'll be more at ease than you can imagine!

Sources: Caring for Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Bantam); The Nemours Foundation; Catherine Dundon, MD

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.