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Myths about Colic

If your infant turns on the waterworks every evening, chances are you've just joined the colic club. Up to 25 percent of all babies between 2 weeks and 3 months of age develop colic -- crying jags that go on for more than three hours, occur more than three times a week, and last more than three weeks.

If your infant turns on the waterworks every evening, chances are you've just joined the colic club. Up to 25 percent of all babies between 2 weeks and 3 months of age develop colic -- crying jags that go on for more than three hours, occur more than three times a week, and last more than three weeks.

  • Your baby's not in pain. Recent studies indicate that when they're crying, colicky babies experience no greater increase in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol -- a physical indicator of pain -- than those without colic. "Although babies with colic may grimace, it does not appear to be caused by pain," says Barbara Prudhomme White, Ph.D., an assistant professor of health and human services at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham.
  • Colicky crying is normal. The pattern of crying among infants (whether they're colicky or not) has proved to be universal: It increases from birth, peaks at 6 to 8 weeks, then slowly wanes. "Crying is a hardwired instinctual behavior," says Ronald G. Barr, M.D., director of the Center for Community Child and Health Research, in Vancouver. "Colic is simply the high end of the spectrum of normal crying."
  • Dietary changes may help. According to studies by Pamela C. High, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Brown University Medical Center, in Providence, a small percentage of infants with severe colic improved rapidly when their nursing mothers stopped consuming dairy products. "Some infants have an intolerance to cow's-milk protein that causes discomfort," Dr. High explains. Similarly, colic in formula-fed babies may also indicate a milk sensitivity, which can be reduced by switching to a hypoallergenic formula, says William J. Cochran, M.D., chairman of gastrointestinal nutrition for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

If neither of these modifications eases colic symptoms, Dr. High's team has uncovered three other strategies that might do the trick.

  1. If you're breastfeeding, eliminate caffeine -- a known contributor to fussiness and reflux -- from your diet.
  2. Wait a minimum of 2 1/2 hours from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next, and limit each meal to 30 minutes.
  3. Feed your baby in a calm, quiet spot. This may help him eat better, sleep longer, and cry less.

  • Swaddling works. Many babies involuntarily flail their arms and legs while they sleep, which can set off a major crying jag. Fortunately, there's a simple solution. A study conducted by Bradley Thach, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, found that wrapping fussy infants snugly in a blanket (to mimic the comforting sensation of the womb) before putting them to bed helps them stay asleep. "Swaddling prevents the simple startle reflex from progressing to full awakening," Dr. Thach says.
  • Colic can be controlled. What else can you do to quiet a colicky child? Try the five-S method, as outlined by Harvey Karp, M.D., creator of the DVD and book, The Happiest Baby on the Block; soothing her by positioning her in your lap on her side or stomach (a baby should still be put to sleep on her back to minimize the risk of SIDS); shushing or using a white-noise machine, a vacuum cleaner, or radio static to mimic the sound inside the uterus; swinging and other rhythmic motions to keep her in a relaxed state; and having her suck on a pacifier or your clean finger to help her calm down.
  • It's temporary. Colic usually disappears by 6 months of age with no lasting effect on your child. "In the long run," Dr. White says, "children who have colic as infants turn out just as well as those who don't."