Coping with colic

How to Care for Your Baby—and Yourself

It's very common for infants to have a fussy period at night, especially between about 6:00 p.m. and midnight. This whining and whimpering usually peaks at six weeks and is limited to just an hour or two a day by three to four months.

Colic is this "normal crankiness" on steroids. It starts at about three weeks and usually subsides in three or four months. But no one with a colicky child would characterize the child's crying as "fussiness." A more apt word might be "screaming." Babies with colic can cry all day, all night, or both. No one really has to tell you whether or not your baby has colic. You know.

Some causes of colic

Sometimes, there is a physical explanation for your little one's discomfort, so always see the pediatrician about prolonged crying you can't explain. These causes include:

  • Infant GERD (gastroesophageal disease) or acid reflux. This is when stomach acid backs up and creates a burning feeling in the chest and throat. These babies may be especially upset after feedings, either extending or pulling up their legs and passing gas. GERD is common in preemies (and in fact colic itself is more common in preemies). Your doctor can diagnose and treat cases of infant GERD
  • A cow's milk allergy. Although an actual allergy to cow's milk protein is rare, it is more likely to occur in babies with a family history of food allergies. It's likelier that a baby has a milk intolerance rather than an allergy, but this too is rare (lactose intolerance usually shows up or "presents" later in the child's life). If you think your baby might have a cow's milk allergy or intolerance, talk to your doctor.
  • A sensory-processing issue. Some babies are unusually sensitive to all kinds of stimuli—noise, light, even a too-busy pattern on the nursery wallpaper. These infants may have immature nervous systems. Most of these little ones catch up to their peers as they learn that they can soothe themselves, but for others it is simply the way the child is wired. Inborn sensory disorders are types of learning disorders; they have nothing to do with intelligence and can successfully be treated when your child is older.
  • Sleep problems. Sometimes babies who wail inconsolably are simply not getting enough sleep. Talk to your pediatrician about your child's nap and sleep schedule.

For the rest of the hundreds of thousands of babies each year who develop colic, a cause still can't be found, but it often appears that they suffer from tummy troubles, pulling up their legs just like the babies with GERD. If you're feeding your baby formula, ask your doctor about trying an easy-to-digest one like Store Brand Sensitivity®. If you're nursing, the doctor can suggest foods to eliminate from your own diet.

Help for Baby—and You

These tried-and-true soothers can buy you hours of peace.

  • Rocking. A baby swing can be the best investment you've ever made. Or go for long rides in your car; the motion can work magic on tired, stressed tykes.
  • The right pacifier. Try out different brands until your cranky cutie finds her favorite.
  • White noise. Babies love the repetitive sound of fans, vacuums, and hair or clothes dryers, probably because it reminds them of sounds they heard in the womb. You can also buy an inexpensive white-noise machine.
  • Tummy pressure. Lay your infant stomach-down on your thighs and rub her back. The pressure on her achy tummy can work wonders.
  • Swaddling. Wrapping her up like a baby burrito can bring comfort.
  • Put her in her crib. It's okay to let her cry and take a break for yourself. Or ask a friend to come spell you while you go get your nails done. Colic is ultimately tougher on the parents than it is the baby. Take care of yourself and know that on the other side of all of the screaming is a dimpled, giggling baby you'll adore.

This article was written by the publishers of Parents and American Baby magazines.

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