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Colic Facts

If crying spells are very intense and regularly last two or three hours or longer, usually around the same every day, your baby may have colic. In the classic case, a baby clenches his fists, doubles over, and screams inconsolably, sucking or sleeping only sporadically. Colic symptoms generally appear at about 6 weeks or so and, mercifully, disappear by 12 weeks.

The cause of colic is still a mystery-and so, unfortunately, is its cure. One theory is that colicky babies have an immature digestive system that contracts painfully when they pass gas. Perhaps for that reason, some babies seem to get relief from Mylicon, an over-the-counter medicine that contains an antigas ingredient. If you suspect gas is the reason for your infant's crying, you may want to consult your pediatrician about this treatment option.

Sudden crying in a baby can also signal pain, illness, or, in some rare cases, early teething. When acute, unexplained crying lasts longer than 40 minutes, take your baby's temperature, check her for swollen gums, and undress her to look for areas of redness on her skin, swelling, or something in her clothing that may be irritating her, like a tag or pin. Call your pediatrician if you find anything out of the ordinary.

Whether your baby has true colic or simply relieves tension with mournful, heartfelt wails, these tried-and-true soothers can usually be some help:

Baby Carriers. Infants love motion and closeness to a warm body-something they enjoyed in the womb. Many studies confirm the benefits of close body contact: Researchers have found that babies carried in the arms, in front carriers, or in slings for at least three hours a day cried a lot less on average than those babies who were not carried at all.

Infant massage. Research has also shown the power of smooth, deliberate touch. In studies on premature infants, those who were massaged for 15 minutes three times as day for 10 days gained weight more quickly and were more active, alert, and responsive than those preemies who weren't massaged. Massage is also a helpful tool for promoting relaxation in full-term infants.

At first, don't massage your baby when he's crying-wait until you're both relaxed because you don't want him to associate the massage with bad feelings, like frustration or exhaustion. Then, gently rub his back, belly, arms, and legs with loving strokes. To perfect your technique, take a class or read one of the many books now available on the art of infant massage. After a week or two, when your baby has come to associate massage with relaxation, you can use massage to calm and soothe him when he cries.

Swings. If it seems that every evening, just when you're tying get supper on the table, the baby acts up, a mechanical swing may help. Most babies are magically soothed by these devices, which come in battery-powered or windup models. Battery-operated swings are more expensive but will run for a long time; the less costly (and sometimes noisy) crank models must be wound every 10 to 15 minutes. Some swings provide extra support for young infants' floppy heads; otherwise you can purchase a special insert to help keep your child's neck straight and his head upright. In either case, don't try a swing until your baby is 6 weeks old, when she can support the weight of her head a little bit.

Though there's nothing wrong with the occasional use of an infant swing, experts do caution against using one to calm every whimper. Before strapping you baby in, make sure she isn't hungry tired, or wet. Once you've tried meeting all of your baby's needs, putting her in a swing to get her over an inexplicable crying jag is perfectly acceptable.

Sucking Satisfaction. Babies have a strong sucking urge in the first few months of life, and satisfying that urge can quickly calm a fretful infant. Many parents rely on pacifiers for this purpose, but it's probably better to encourage your child to suck his thumb instead. Thumb sucking, like using a pacifier, is a habit that babies can use to calm themselves-and the capacity to self-comfort is a great achievement. Also, pacifiers (unlike thumbs) can fall out of your child's reach, and you might find yourself having to run to the crib every time it drops out.Another pacifier danger that should not be underestimated: Too often, parents use them as a crutch to quiet the baby, without attempting to discover what may be upsetting him.

Like thumb sucking, pacifier use can temporarily distort your child's mouth, but this can be minimized with an orthodontic pacifier. And with both types of sucking, early distortion usually corrects itself if the habit is broken before permanent teeth appear.

Until thumbs become available when their grips loosen at about 8 to 10 weeks, newborns suck on their wrists, then on their fists or on the back of their hands. To help your baby suck, don't swaddle her hands and keep her nails trimmed. If she's struggling to find her hands, you can gently help her, but don't force it.

Crying is your baby's way of telling you that he needs something. Answering his call assures him that he is important to you and builds trust between the two of you. Studies show that babies who are responded to promptly in the early months of life develop into more confident youngsters. Promptly soothing is always practical because the longer a baby is left alone to cry, the more intense the crying will become and the more difficult it will be to calm him down again.

Whether your baby has true colic or simply relieves tension with mournful, heartfelt wails, these tried-and-true soothers can usually be some help:

If you readily respond to your infant's cries-by offering her your breast or a bottle, a nap, a fresh diaper, or some extra cuddling time, for example-yet she continues to cry, try not to be alarmed. Four out of five babies this age have crying jags daily that last 15 minutes to an hour-and these are not easily explained. The extra household activity that typically occurs around dinnertime might be the cause, since overstimulation is very stressful for babies. Some young infants also routinely cry themselves to sleep, most likely because they become overly tired.

Tools For Learning

Crib Mirrors
Beginning at about 6 or 7 weeks of age, many babies develop a fascination with mirrors. This isn't an early case of vanity-infants just love to look at faces, and their own has the delightful quality of moving and staying when they do. You can purchase a specially designed crib mirror, or fasten one of your own to the side of the your baby's crib. It should be made out of stainless steel or acrylic (but never out of glass) and ideally, be four to six inches wide. Your little one will enjoy it most when no more than seven inches from her face.

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.