If your baby cries about the same time each day and nothing you do seems to offer comfort, your baby may have colic. Colic is often defined as crying more than three hours a day, three days a week for more than three weeks in an otherwise well-fed, healthy baby. What is most important for the diagnosis is sustained crying in an otherwise healthy baby for a regular period of the day lasting for several weeks.
Colic can be distressing for both you and your baby. But take comfort: Colic is relatively short-lived. In a matter of weeks or months, the colic will end, and you'll have weathered one of the first major challenges of parenthood.
Fussing and crying are normal for infants, and a fussy baby doesn't necessarily have colic. In an otherwise healthy, well-fed baby, signs of colic include:
Colic affects as many as 25 percent of babies. Colic usually starts a few weeks after birth and often improves by age 3 months. By ages 4 to 5 months, the majority of babies with colic have improved.
When to see a doctor
Contact your baby's doctor if you're concerned about your baby's crying, especially if you notice changes in your baby's eating, sleeping or behavior. You can help your baby's doctor by tracking in a diary when your baby cries and for how long. Also record your baby's sleeping and eating patterns.
The cause of colic is unknown. Researchers have explored a number of possibilities, including allergies, lactose intolerance, an immature digestive system, maternal anxiety, and differences in the way a baby is fed or comforted. Yet it's still unclear why some babies have colic and others don't.
Infants of mothers who smoke during pregnancy or after delivery have a greater risk of developing colic.
Many other theories about what makes a child more susceptible to colic have been proposed, but none have been proved. Colic doesn't occur more often among firstborns or formula-fed babies. A breast-feeding mother's diet isn't likely to trigger colic. Girls and boys — no matter what their birth order or how they're fed — experience colic in similar numbers.
Although colic often takes a toll on the entire family, it doesn't appear to have any lasting medical consequences. Babies who have colic grow and develop normally.
Preparing for your appointment
When you take your baby to his or her pediatrician or family doctor, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For colic, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your baby's doctor will do a physical exam to identify any possible causes for your baby's distress, such as an intestinal obstruction. If your baby is otherwise healthy, he or she may be diagnosed with colic.
Lab tests, X-rays and other diagnostic tests aren't usually needed, but in unclear cases they help to exclude other diagnoses.
Treatments and drugs
Colic improves on its own, often by age 3 months. In the meantime, there are few treatment options. Gas-relief medications, such as simethicone (Gas-X Infant Drops, Infants' Mylicon Gas Relief, others), haven't proved very helpful.
Some research suggests that treatment with probiotics — substances that help maintain the natural balance of "good" bacteria in the digestive tract — can soothe colic. More research is needed, however, to determine the effects of probiotics on colic.
Talk to your baby's doctor before giving your baby any medication to treat colic.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Your baby's doctor may not be able to fix colic or make it go away sooner, but there are many ways you can try to soothe your baby. Consider these suggestions:
Some parents report soothing their crying infants with alternative remedies. The remedies include:
Alternative therapies for colic haven't proved to be consistently helpful, however, and some might even be dangerous. Talk to your baby's doctor before trying any alternative therapies for colic.
Coping and support
Caring for an infant who has colic can be exhausting and stressful, even for experienced parents. Remember to take care of yourself, too. These suggestions may help:
It's also important to recognize your limits. If your baby's crying is causing you to lose control, put the baby in a safe place — such as a crib — and go to another room to collect yourself. If necessary, contact your doctor, a local crisis intervention service or a mental health help line for additional support. These suggestions apply not only to parents but also to any other person who cares for your child.
Last Updated: 2011-07-06
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