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Could Your Baby's Crying Be Colic?

Parenting a constantly irritable baby is one of the most stressful challenges a new parent can face. What are you supposed to do when your infant is crying inconsolably at 3 a.m. and nothing seems to soothe him or her for more than a few minutes? Friends may tell you your baby is "colicky." You don't care what it's called, as long as there's a way to fix it. Is there? Read on.

What Is Colic?

The definition of colic used by researchers is: "A healthy, well-fed infant who cries for more than three hours per day, for more than three days per week, for more than three weeks."

Unfortunately, colic is not a well-understood condition. Here's what is known: 

  • Colic usually starts at about 2 weeks of age in a full-term infant (or later in a premature infant).
  • Colic almost always goes away by 3 or 4 months of age.
  • There is no difference in the prevalence of colic for boys and girls, whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, and whether the baby is first born or not.
  • Scientific studies have shown that children who had colic are no different in terms of personality, mental health, intelligence, etc., than children who never had colic.


What Causes Colic?

Despite many scientific studies, no single common cause for colic has been found. The fussiness of colic has many different causes, and that's why there is no one way to help it.

Some theories of the cause of colic include:

  • Digestive woes, perhaps due to intolerance of cow's milk protein or lactose
  • Reflux (heartburn due to stomach acid and milk flowing back into the esophagus)
  • An immature digestive system in which the intestinal muscles are often in spasm
  • Air (gas) in the intestinal tract
  • Increased hormone levels that cause stomachaches or a fussy mood
  • Hypersensitivity to a stimulation in the environment (sound, light, etc.)
  • An intense temperament in the newborn period
  • An immature nervous system

Take note that all of these are only hypotheses, and keep in mind that you are not to blame for your baby's fussiness.

First Steps to Address Colic in Your Baby

Before looking to treat your baby's "colic," make sure he or she is thoroughly examined by her pediatrician to check for a medical reason for the crying and fussiness.

Some of the possible medical reasons for irritability in an infant include:

  • an infection (for example: an ear or urinary infection)
  • evidence of reflux or gastrointestinal distress
  • pressure or inflammation of the brain and nervous system
  • an eye problem (for example: a scratch or increased pressure)
  • an abnormality of the rhythm of the heart
  • a bone fracture
  • a hernia
  • a hair wrapped around a finger or toe
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