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Baby's Got Colic and You Can't Cope

Baby's Got Colic and You Can't Cope

WebMD Feature

As new parents will attest, there's almost nothing more unnerving than a crying baby. Worse still? An infant who won't stop crying, regardless of what you do. If your baby fits this bill, it could signify that dreaded C-word: colic.

As many as one in five infants are colicky, a condition characterized by inconsolable crying and fretfulness for hours at a time -- sometimes round-the-clock but usually at the same time of day, typically in the late afternoon or evening. These babies often have excessive gas and may repeatedly pull their knees to their stomachs and clench their fists in distress.

The causes of colic still largely remain a mystery, although the most common theories are that colicky kids either have an immature digestive tract or nervous system, or that their temperaments make them prone to overstimulation or less adept at self-quieting. Nor is there a definitive test or X-ray doctors can use to diagnose colic in infants.

"Colic is a diagnosis of exclusion, which means you don't have another good explanation for it," says Dr. Terry Hatch, associate professor of pediatrics at University of Illinois College of Medicine in Champaign-Urbana.

No Cure Except Time

The positive news is that if it's just colic -- which usually surfaces at age 2 weeks to 4 weeks -- your baby isn't in any physical danger, and the remedy is relatively simple: wait it out. Thankfully, there's no evidence that colic is a sign of chronic illness to come, or that having one colicky baby ups your risk of having another.

"Colic is usually associated with a normal, healthy growing child," says Dr. Rob Squires, associate professor of pediatrics at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' section on gastroenterology and nutrition.

Colic typically disappears by age 3 months or 4 months, but unfortunately, there's no tried-and-true remedy for the problem. Doctors say that while certain measures may offer some relief some of the time, a sudden, miraculous cure probably means your baby was ready to outgrow the condition on his own anyway.

The 'Fussy' Diary

But the lack of a proven cure doesn't mean parents should ignore a baby's distress, either. For starters, if crying persists after you make the obvious checks -- dirty diaper? hungry? -- check with your doctor, who'll want to rule out any underlying medical conditions, such as allergies or gastroesophageal reflux (similar to adult heartburn).

Keep a log detailing your baby's fussy periods to help determine what, if anything, seems to trigger or relieve the discomfort. If you're a nursing mom, your doctor may suggest cutting dairy or gas-producing foods from your diet. Milk and soy formulas also may upset infant tummies, in which case a predigested hypoallergenic type formula may help.

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