Colic and crying
Parents have been crying out to me for help in dealing with their infants’ problems with colic. Read on for important things to know about colic, and possible ways to ease and reduce it when it occurs.
What is colic?
Colic can occur in about 20% of all babies. The term is defined as crying and irritability that lasts for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, beginning from about three weeks to three months of age and often in the late afternoon. Anything less than this is considered normal, even if it is quite frustrating to a parent.
What causes colic?
Although we don’t know for sure, it may be triggered by many different circumstances. These could include hunger, overstimulation, being too hot or too cold, a dirty diaper, gas pains, teething pains or just being overtired. The good news about colic is that it is not a life-threatening medical problem and babies will outgrow it over a few months.
Ways to reduce severity and duration
Until colic goes away, parents should try some of the following supportive measures. These include:
¯ Try and figure out why your baby is crying. If this fails, then consider swaddling your baby snugly and handling the baby gently to minimize overstimulation.
¯ Reduce noise and light levels.
¯ Use steady smooth vibrations — such as a swing, rocking chair, or even a ride in a car, which can often quiet a colicky infant.
¯ Burp your baby frequently. Allowing at least two hours between feeds can help.
¯ Don’t change formula or at least don’t do so without first discussing making a change with your baby’s health care professional. Doing so is rarely, if ever, the answer.
¯ Continue breastfeeding — mothers of infants who are colicky should not stop breast feeding.
¯ Check for fever. Colic rarely turns out to signal a serious medical or surgical problem such as a hernia, but if you have questions or your baby has a fever in addition to the fussiness, then please call your baby’s health care professional.
How about medications?
As to medications to treat colic, be aware that no medication has been found to treat colic successfully, and, in fact, many of them are quite dangerous and have been associated with some life-threatening side effects.
Never shake a baby!
Most importantly, never, never attempt to shake a baby who is crying to try to quiet them down. This is one of the most common situations that can cause physical abuse and unintended brain damage to a baby.
Colic is not a sign of bad parenting
Finally, remember that colic has nothing to do with bad parenting, so please don’t blame yourself.
If your baby continues to cry and you don’t know why, and you feel you are losing control, please call your infant’s health care professional for further help. You can also call a friend or family member to give you a break so you can collect yourself and avoid the exhaustion that will only frustrate your baby even more.
Hopefully, tips like these will quiet any concerns you have the next time you are concerned about your baby having colic.
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Lewis First, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.