Coping with a Colicky Baby

Colic may be more harmful to worried and frustrated parents than it is to babies. A colicky baby cries for more than three hours a day more than three days a week.

As many as one in 20 babies have colic at some point during their early infancy. It's important to remember, however, that no matter how hard it may be to cope with a constantly crying baby, colic is a harmless condition as long as a medical condition has been ruled out by your pediatrician.

What is Colic?

Colic is actually a collection of symptoms, rather than a disease. It usually begins within the first two to four weeks after birth, peaks at about six weeks, and then lessens by three or four months of age. Colic may persist until six months.

  • The main symptom of colic is crying—hard, almost angry crying—for hours at a time. It may occur at any time but is often worse in early evening .Your baby's face is likely to be red, the crying loud, and the baby inconsolable.

  • The baby will pull its legs up, as if he or she has abdominal pain. His stomach may be distended with gas.

  • Babies with colic usually eat well and gain weight normally.

  • The baby may seem extra sensitive and hard to distract or comfort.

What Can You Do?

For generations, parents have tried different measures to calm a colicky baby. Once your doctor has ruled out any underlying reason for crying, give these tear-stopping techniques a try:

  • Get moving. A spin in the car, motion swings, or dancing are especially helpful at the dinner hour, when fussy babies tend to kick it up a notch.

  • Keep baby close. Babies who are carried more cry less, studies show. Skin-to-skin contact is best. But wearing baby in a safe infant carrier for several hours a day also cuts crying and provides constant sound, temperature, and motion that signal comfort.

  • Use a pacifier, even if the baby has just eaten. Some colicky babies will spit a pacifier right out, but others may calm down a bit.

  • Try baby massage. Your gentle touch may soothe a fussy baby.

  • Wrap him like a burrito. Swaddling babies snugly in a thin, soft blanket helps keeps their arms and legs from flailing and can switch on relaxation. If the weather is hot, however, beware of overheating.

  • Switch on a quiet, meditative noise. A running shower, a whirring fan, or even the vacuum cleaner helps block outside stimulation and may mimic the steady sounds of the womb. You might also try a white noise machine or a recording of a human heart beating, which sometimes calm a baby.

  • Let your baby cry—for a little while. If walking, rocking, singing, massaging, and the like don't seem to make a difference, put the baby in the crib for 10 to 15 minutes and see if he or she quiets alone. Sometimes a baby needs a little time alone—and you may need it, too.

  • Take a stress break. Ask a friend or relative to watch the baby while you walk, bathe, and calm yourself so you can better handle crying. A colic support group can help you cope until your baby outgrows crying. (And they all do!)

Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Jovino, DO

Date Last Reviewed: 4/2/2010

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