When a Baby's Colic Makes the Parents Want to Cry

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 17, 2000 -- Parents-to-be are warned of the scenario: The newborn is brought home and -- as if settling into an unfamiliar routine isn't enough -- the baby starts spending large chunks of time crying, and crying, and crying. Welcome to the world of colic -- the bane of existence for many new parents.

Affecting up to 25% of all infants, colic refers to prolonged periods of crying without any apparent cause. Outbursts often occur in the late afternoon or early evening, and are thought to be caused by gas pain. There aren't any long-term effects, but symptoms can last for two to three months, putting a serious strain on family life.

Medical treatment for infant colic includes drug therapy and formula changes, yet most of these remedies haven't been shown to be effective. Still, doctors say there are ways to comfort your baby and get your life back to normal.

"A few remedies look promising, but there's really no evidence that colic needs to be treated anyway," says lead study author Michelle Garrison, MPH, a pediatric researcher at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. "It's OK to just wait it out, but you might want to try soy or hypoallergenic formula, herbal tea, and a less stimulating environment," she suggests in an interview with WebMD.

In contrast, Garrison and colleagues found that widely used "remedies" such as drug therapy, complete avoidance of dairy products, and fiber-enriched or sweetened formula were ineffective for the problem. Their report is in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Doctors have some other time-tested tips. "Above all else, realize that you're not doing anything wrong and it's not your fault," says colic expert Morris Wessel, MD, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine. "So relax and try different things, knowing that they might not all work for your child," he urges.

Some things to try include:

  • Play a music box close to the crib or bassinet.
  • Swaddle baby with bed linen below the neck (not over the face) in a back-lying position.
  • Use a pacifier, but don't coat it with honey or jam.
  • Turn on the vacuum cleaner in a nearby room.
  • Place baby securely on top of a running washing machine.
  • Take baby for a long car ride using an infant seat.
  • Avoid broccoli, asparagus, and cabbage if breast-feeding.

A colicky baby can be exhausting, Wessel tells WebMD, especially for new mothers. "So now, more than ever, be good to yourself and remember that you're only human," he advises. To maintain your sanity, he recommends:

  • Accept help when it's offered and ask for it when you need it.
  • Get plenty of exercise and take a warm bath every day.
  • Realize that your baby will soon grow out of it.
  • Talk to your doctor about other options if you can't cope.