What is Colic, and What Should You Do About It?

By Lisa Pecos Babies are supposed to cry. Some do it more than others, and all babies cry a lot from time to time, but up to a certain point we usually do not think of babies’ crying as a big deal. Most of the time, it just means that the baby is feeling hungry or tired, and these problems are relatively easy to fix. But there is a certain percentage of babies-estimated to be between 15 and 25 percent-whose crying goes beyond normal. They cry seemingly all the time and are inconsolable, even when they are rested, well-fed, not too hot, and not too cold. Pediatricians refer to babies like this as “colic.” There is no official diagnosis for colic in babies, and in fact it is more of a general term than an actual condition. It merely refers to the baby’s excessive crying when the crying is not rooted in any physical issue. Although any excessive crying in an otherwise healthy baby can be called colic, pediatricians generally use the rule of threes: if the crying starts after a baby is three weeks old, lasts for over three hours, happens at least three days a week, and goes on for at least three weeks, it is colic. Causes of colic Whenever a baby cries excessively, it is best to consult a pediatrician as soon as possible. It could be that the baby does have a serious issue that is not outwardly visible. However, colic itself is by definition not rooted in any serious physical cause. Theories abound regarding what might cause it, including:
  • indigestion resulting from the newborn’s immature digestive system;
  • digestive problems resulting from chemicals in breast milk;
  • allergies;
  • discomfort from excessive swallowing of air due to crying;
  • imbalance in brain chemicals.
In any case, mothers of colicky babies can at least feel reassured that they are not responsible for the excessive crying. There is nothing to be done about any of these particular issues, and in most cases the baby just needs time to grow out of the phase. What to do about colic If you have a colicky baby, it is understandable to feel a little frustrated. Every mother and father wants to be able to comfort his or her child, and all that crying can wear on the nerves, potentially leading to depression and, in severe cases, negative feelings toward the baby. The most important thing in dealing with a colicky baby is to keep yourself calm. While it is understandable to have some negative feelings, it is obviously not a good idea to take these feelings out on the baby. Also important to remember is that the colic is not going to last. In most cases this phase ends after just a few weeks. If it takes longer than that, then you might want to bring the baby back to the doctor to double check that there is nothing physically wrong. Even during the baby’s colicky period, you will probably find that there are certain things you can do to at least ease your baby’s upset feelings. All babies are different, so there is no single thing that works for all parents. Try everything you can think of-rocking, swaddling, holding, playing, turning on the radio, giving the baby a pacifier, and so on-and see if you can stumble upon something that works or at least makes things a little better. Whether or not you can find a way to ease your baby’s symptoms, it is important to take care of yourself as well. If you feel yourself getting overly upset or frustrated as you are trying to ease your baby’s crying, try to take a break. One way to do this is to make an arrangement with your spouse to take shifts during the crying spells, so that neither of you have to deal with it for too long at once.