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Expert Q&A: Crying and Colic

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WebMD Feature

Could your crying baby have colic? What is colic, anyway? And what really works for soothing a colicky, fussy baby?

WebMD went to mother of two and pediatrician Tanya R. Altmann, MD, FAAP, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and author of Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents' Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers. We talked about colic, what it is, how long it lasts, and what you can do to soothe an upset infant, whether your baby is teething, coping with colic, or just feeling fussy.

What is colic?

Colic is when a baby, for no apparent reason, is really fussy and cries for hours at a time, often at the same time every day. Some parents call it their baby’s witching hour, because they just don’t know why their baby cries at this time.

Does colic occur in newborns? And how long does colic last?

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

What remedies actually work to soothe a baby who is colicky?

Of course every baby is different, but there are several things parents can try to soothe a colicky baby:

  • For the younger infant a good, tight swaddle often helps. Being swaddled makes them feel secure and can calm a fussy baby.
  • Babies also tend to like loud, repetitive sounds like radio static or the sound of washing machines, so if you go shhhh-shhhh in your baby’s ear that can work as well.  But you do have to do the "shhhing" loud enough to be heard over the baby’s crying. The reason they like sounds like this is that they remind the baby of the sound of their mother’s heartbeat.
  • Another thing I like to try is singing; some babies really respond well to their parents’ voice.
  • You can also try turning the baby on their the side when you’re holding them, and giving them something to suck on, like a pacifier or your finger.
  • Or try taking 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 see the techniques being used, and I think that helps them understand more. 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 any fussy baby -- colic is actually one of the extremes of fussiness. 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, when they’re young they do need you to help them sleep in the beginning, and a lot of these techniques help you do that.

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