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Could your crying baby have colic? What is colic, anyway? And what really works to soothe it?

WebMD spoke with mother of two and pediatrician Tanya R. Altmann, MD, FAAP. We talked about colic: what it is, how long it lasts, and what you can do to soothe an upset infant.

What is colic?

Colic is when a baby, for no apparent reason, is really fussy and cries for hours at a time.

Does colic occur in newborns? How long does it last?

Colic typically starts when a baby is about 3 weeks old, and usually ends at about 3 months. Most babies outgrow it.

What remedies work?

Every baby is different, but there are several things parents can try:

  • For the younger infant, a good, tight swaddle often helps. Being swaddled makes them feel secure.
  • Babies also tend to like loud, repetitive sounds like radio static or the sound of washing machines. If you go shhhh-shhhh in your baby’s ear that can work as well.
  • Try singing -- some babies respond well to their parents’ voices.
  • Turn the baby on their side when you’re holding them, and give them something to suck on, like a pacifier or your finger.
  • Take the baby out in a stroller. One of my sons really loved being out in his stroller, and he was a very colicky, fussy baby.

You may find that one of these solutions works for a few weeks, and then you may have to try something else. I recommend a DVD based off the book The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp, MD. I especially like the DVD because parents can actually see the techniques being used. I also like the book Colic Solved, by Bryan Vartabedian, MD.

Do you have more tips for soothing a fussy baby, colic or no colic?

Usually the techniques we just talked about will help. It’s always good for parents to learn these techniques, because they’ll also help a non-fussy baby sleep longer and through the night.

Eventually the goal is for your baby to learn how to soothe themselves and sleep all night long -- however, they do need you to help them sleep in the beginning.

What about when my baby starts teething and cries a lot?

A teething baby often likes to suck, chew, and gnaw on things. Teething rings can help, or often I’ll have parents get a washcloth wet, then twist it or roll it up and put it in the freezer or fridge. Once it’s cold, let the baby chew on it. Or freeze a mini-bagel and let them chew on it -- but depending on how young they are, you have to keep an eye on the baby so they don’t bite off a big piece.

I will say to be careful with topical solutions that you don’t overdo them. I’d recommend checking with your physician first.

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