Why won’t my baby stop crying?

What you need to know about infant colic

Infant colic — defined as excessive crying in an infant for no apparent reason — can be extremely distressing for parents and caregivers.

Many health providers use the “rule of threes” to define colic: Crying for more than three hours, occurring three or more days per week, starting around three weeks and resolving at about three months of age.

Some might be familiar with other interchangeable names used to describe colic and colicky babies such as “fussy baby behavior,” “unsettled baby” or “the period of purple crying.”

The exact cause of colic is unknown. Some think it is due to gas pain or a growing digestive system, while others think it relates to a moody or overstimulated baby. The important thing to know is that it is a benign, self-limited condition that resolves over time. Two out of three colicky babies will improve by 12 weeks of age and almost all will resolve by 16 weeks of age.

What makes colic go away? The main factors are time and patience.

Getting to know your baby takes effort, and understanding that your baby is not rejecting you is an important first step. Finding ways of coping and taking needed breaks is equally important. Sharing the load with a partner or family member can provide you with some much-needed rest.

The next step is finding a technique that might help improve the colic.

Trying different feeding techniques might be helpful regardless if you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. Sometimes children require change of positioning, volume of feed, or feeding schedule to meet the baby’s needs. Frequent burping and decreasing swallowed air sometimes works as well.

Other times, soothing techniques go a long way. Gentle rocking, using a pacifier, safe swaddling, stroller or car rides, white noise, swinging, and providing a warm bath are examples that have worked for many parents. Different techniques may work at different times. The process of finding what helps can strengthen your long-term relationship with your child.

It is typical for parents to assume colic might be from acid reflux or a nutritional allergy, but use of acid suppression medications has not proven to be effective for colic. Dietary interventions such as changing formula or restricting maternal intake of certain nutrients are considered unproven interventions. Gripe water, Simethicone, probiotics, Lactase and Sucrose are treatments that have been ineffective overall for the treatment of colic. Herbal and homeopathic remedies are not recommended interventions for colic and the benefits may not outweigh the potential risks.

Of course, some conditions can seem like colic with similar crying spells. If you are worried about your baby, it is a good idea to tell your provider about your concerns, have them examine your baby and reassure you if nothing else appears to be going on. The most important thing to do during the first few months of life is to develop long-term healthy bonds with your baby as you get to know one another. 

Amer Al-Nimr, MD is a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. For more information, go to www.chadkids.org.

Categories: House Calls, Planning for baby

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