For the first two weeks of her life, our firstborn, Elizabeth, indulged our fantasy of parenthood -- Mom and Dad reclining dreamily, one moment dissolving into the next in a placid composition. Then the scenery changed dramatically. At around 5 p.m., she began to fuss, then cry, then howl, until about 7 p.m. She wasn't hungry, sleepy, wet, or bored.
I knew babies cried when they wanted to be held, but when I picked her up, she cried even louder. It was profoundly demoralizing: If I couldn't do something as basic as console my own baby, how would I maneuver through teething and tantrums, to say nothing of the vast, treacherous road beyond?
Since I was breastfeeding, the pediatrician suggested I eliminate coffee, dairy products, and certain vegetables from my diet. When that had no discernible effect, he shrugged. "She probably has a touch of colic," he said.
Colic. The very word struck terror in my new mom's heart. I had no real idea what it meant, of course, other than that it was bad and sounded vaguely gastrointestinal. To me it said, "Your baby is going to be tuned to the crying channel for the next three months."
I had every reason to be confused. Even among the medical community, colic is less a condition than a classification, defined by the rule of threes: inconsolable crying that begins and ends for no apparent reason, lasts at least three hours, occurs on at least three days a week, and continues for at least three weeks but seldom more than three months. By that definition, some 16 to 26 percent of infants are categorized as colicky.