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The somewhat mysterious condition known as colic has been frustrating parents for centuries. And the fact that it shows up in the youngest infants can be especially tough on new parents as they adjust to big changes with their newborn. While we still don’t know exactly what causes colic, we do have more insight into how to manage it and how to help parents get through those challenging first few months. Here’s a short Colic 101 for new parents:
What Is Colic?
Colic is a regular and extended period of fussiness, including excessive crying and disruptive sleep. One classic colic study refers to the so-called rule of three for diagnosing colic, and it’s still a helpful rule of thumb: when an infant who is well fed and otherwise healthy cries for more than three hours a day for at least three days a week for three weeks.
Some of the symptoms according to the American Academy of Pediatrics can include seemingly inconsolable screaming, enlarged or distended stomachs and pulling up legs and passing gas. According to a Wake Forest University study, between 10 and 26 percent of babies experience colic, and it’s equally common in breast and bottle fed infants.
What Causes Colic?
The AAP and other pediatricians’ groups agree that there’s no clear cause for colic. But research suggests two possible factors: in some cases, something about the baby’s temperament or neurodevelopment appears to limit their ability to self-soothe. Other research points to a gastrointestinal cause for colic. In some cases with breastfed babies, there may be a sensitivity to something in the mother’s diet, and in rare cases, babies may have a sensitivity to the milk in their formula.
One important note is that colic is diagnosed in babies who are otherwise healthy–with normal appetite, bowel movements and weight gain. In some cases, what’s perceived as colic may be a sign of illness, so checking with your pediatrician is always a good first step.
When Does Colic Start?
Colic often pops up between baby’s second and fourth weeks. This onset in the early weeks of life make it an especially challenging condition, as new parents adjust to life with their baby and disrupted sleep schedules. We often see frazzled parents of colicky infants in those early weeks, and part of our role is to help them see the light at the end of the tunnel.
How Long Does Colic Last?
The most important thing to know about colic is that it will go away on its own. While the early months with a colicky baby be a tough stretch for parents, things do get better. Colic usually improves by the time baby reaches 3 to 6 months, and your pediatrician has strategies and support to help you get through those first few months as you and your baby adjust and your baby learns to self-soothe.
What Can I Do To Treat My Baby’s Colic?
If your baby has the telltale regular and long-lasting irritability, the most important first step is to check with your pediatrician. Your baby’s doctor will start by ruling out illness, offer strategies for riding out colic and make sure that parents are getting the rest and support they need.
Here are some colic management tips from the AAP:
- For breastfeeding moms, try removing potentially irritating foods like milk products, caffeine, onions and cabbage.
- If your baby is formula fed and you suspect a sensitivity to cow’s milk, talk to your pediatrician about hydrolyzed formulas that specially process proteins to make them more easily digested by sensitive infants.
- Walk with your baby when she’s irritable.
- Rock your baby and add in some white noise which some babies find comforting–this can come from white noise machine, clothes dryer, vacuum or fan.
- In some cases, introducing a pacifier can be soothing for a colicky baby.
- Laying baby stomach-down on your knees and rubbing her back can also help soothe gastro-related colic.
- Remember to focus on yourself: the first few DAYS of life can be stressful to new parents. It’s important to avoid letting sleep deprivation and exhaustion turn into depression so that you can keep being a great caregiver for your baby.
Help for Colic from Loudoun Pediatric Associates
We like to remind parents that research shows that there are no long-term adverse effects on children from colic during infancy. So the most important thing for a pediatrician’s office (once other illnesses have been ruled out) is to help families get through those first few months under tough circumstances. We’ll help you adjust your diet and baby’s to rule out food sensitivity issues and give you some other strategies for soothing baby while he learns to soothe himself.
Beyond that, our goal is to make sure that you are supported and are keeping yourself as rested and healthy as possible so you can continue to be a loving and attentive caregiver. When exhausted parents walk through our doors, we remind them that it will get better sooner than they think.