Baby Colic: Symptoms and Solutions

Baby Colic

Colic is one of the most frustrating situations that new parents can face. One in four babies will develop colic during the first three months, crying inconsolably for long periods of time with no apparent reason. Trying to figure out why their infant is so miserable, parents will check to see if the baby is hungry, cold or wet, but the baby’s diapers are dry. She is fed and burped. He’s snug and warm and yet he cries for hours, clenching fists, tensing stomach muscles and curling up his tiny legs.

Colic can start a few weeks after birth and tends to improve when most children are around three months old.

After hearing a baby cry for hours at a time for weeks on end, some parents may feel insecure about their parenting skills, but they shouldn’t feel guilty.

So far, no one is sure why babies have colic. It has nothing to do with gender or birth order or whether babies are breastfed or formula fed. The only thing that research has uncovered so far is that infants born to mothers who smoke are twice as likely to have colic.

Theories about colic suggest that it may have something to do with the immaturity of the nervous system or the digestive system. Some children may be extra sensitive to sensory stimulation and not be able to console themselves. Another theory is that colicky behavior has something to do with indigestion or dietary intolerance, either foods that the breastfeeding mother is eating or the baby’s formula.

Since no one is sure exactly what causes colic, it’s difficult to come up with a therapy that always works but here are some tips that have worked for some parents.

  • Don’t overfeed your baby. Try small and more frequent feedings.
  • Be sure to burp your baby after every feeding.
  • If you are bottle-feeding, make sure the holes in the bottle are the right size so baby does not swallow too much air.
  • If you are feeding your baby formula, talk to your pediatrician about trying a different formula.
  • If you are breastfeeding, try eliminating some foods from your diet. Some believe that foods such as caffeine, onions, and cabbage cause gas in newborns although no research has ever backed this up.
  • Try a pacifier. Some babies will spit it out. For others it will be just what they need.
  • Walk your baby or take her for a ride in the car. Sometimes motion is what’s needed. A baby carrier can help you get things done with a fussy baby. A rocking chair can also be helpful when you are too tired to keep walking.
  • Try a warm bath. This can help babies relax.
  • Try a massage that exerts pressure on her stomach. Place baby on her stomach, across your knees and gently massage her back.
  • Swaddle baby tightly.

If all else fails, there are some therapies that your pediatrician might recommend. One is switching to a milk-free formula. Another is prescribing medication used to reduce bloating, discomfort or pain caused by excessive gas. Another might be prescribing an enzyme to help break down milk sugar lactose.

You may never learn why your child has colic but if you feel that there might be a physical problem causing your baby’s distress, trust your instincts. Don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.

It’s important to remember that colic does not reflect on your parenting skills and it will pass. It can seem unbearable when you can’t comfort a crying baby, but it won’t last. If you really feel like you can’t deal with the crying any more, ask a friend or family member to watch your baby and do something else for an hour. It’s not a sign of weakness or poor parenting to want a break. Caring for your own well being is an important part of caring for your child.

Joan MacDonald
Joan Vos MacDonald has written about health and fitness for newspapers, magazines and websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the author of two books on health-related topics, "Tobacco and Nicotine Dangers," for young adults, and "High Fit Home," a design book about fitness and architecture. She lives in upstate New York near her children and grandchildren.

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