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crying baby

The sounds of your baby crying can be heartbreaking and frustrating. Even healthy babies have periods of crying that can last up to two hours or more at times. But it may be a sign of colic if the crying lasts or becomes severe. Colic occurs in about one-fifth of all babies. It can be extremely stressful. But the thing to remember is that it is temporary.

Colic is a condition characterized by predictable periods of significant distress in an otherwise healthy baby. Babies with colic often cry more than three hours a day, three days a week for three weeks or longer. Colic often appears between two and four weeks of age and usually resolves or dramatically improves by three to four months. 

Unfortunately, the cause of colic is usually unknown. Sometimes, in breastfeeding babies, colic is a sign of sensitivity to a food in the mother's diet. Colic is only rarely caused by sensitivity to milk protein in formula. Smoking during pregnancy and also taking nicotine replacement treatment during your pregnancy increases the risk of your baby developing colic as well as your baby being in a smoky environment (passive smoking).

Colic is more common in babies who are born prematurely. Colicky behavior also may be a sign of a medical problem, such as a hernia or some type of illness.  Your pediatrician will examine your baby to check for any medical causes for your baby’s distress.  Usually the cause is undetermined. Some parents feel that they have done something wrong. This is not the case.


Signs of colic

In an otherwise healthy, well-fed baby, signs of colic include:

  • Predictable periods of crying. A baby with colic often cries about the same time every day, usually in the late afternoon or evening. Colic episodes may last from a few minutes to three hours or more and your baby may have a bowel movement or pass gas near the end of the colic episode.
  • Intense or inconsolable crying. Colic crying is intense, sounds painful and is often high pitched. Your baby's face may turn red and it may be extremely difficult or nearly impossible to comfort them.
  • Crying that occurs for no apparent reason. Crying is a normal way that babies communicate and usually means your baby needs something, such as food or a clean diaper. Crying associated with colic occurs with no clear cause.
  • Painful appearance. Babies crying with colic will often bring their knees up to their chest, tighten their stomach muscles and clench their fists as if in pain. 


What to do?

Although you simply may have to wait it out, several things might help: 

  • First, talk to your pediatrician to make sure that the crying is not related to any serious medical condition that may require treatment. Then ask which suggestions would be most helpful. 
  • If you're nursing, you can try to eliminate milk products, caffeine, onions, cabbage, tomato products, peanuts and other potentially irritating foods from your own diet. Eliminate one food at a time and wait three to four days to see if it helps.  If not, replace that food and try something else.
  • If you're feeding formula to your baby, talk with your pediatrician about a protein hydrolysate formula. (Example: Alimentum,Nutramigen, Pregestamil). The protein in these formulas are partially or extensively broken down and easier to digest. Less than 5% of colicky crying is caused by food sensitivity. But in rare cases a change may help within a few days
  • Don’t overfeed your baby. Sometimes smaller, more frequent feedings are helpful. 
  • Hold your baby as upright as possible during feedings and pause often to burp. If you're nursing, it may help to allow your baby to feed at one breast until it's nearly empty before switching sides. This provides your baby with rich, fatty hindmilk, potentially more satisfying than the lighter, foremilk at the start of a feeding.
  • Try changing bottles. There are many bottles and nipples to choose from. Trying a different type of bottle or nipple or using a bottle with a disposable, collapsible bag may lessen the amount of air your baby swallows.
  • Walk your baby in a baby carrier to soothe them. The motion and body contact will reassure them even if the discomfort persists. Don’t worry about spoiling your baby!
  • Rock them, walk with them, drive in the car, run the vacuum in the next room or place them where they can hear the clothes dryer, a fan, a white-noise machine or soothing music like ocean waves. Steady rhythmic motion and a calming sound may help them fall asleep. However, be sure to never place your child on top of the washer/dryer. 
  • Introduce a pacifier. While some breastfed babies will actively refuse it, it will provide relief for others. 
  • Lay your baby tummy-down across your knees and gently rub their back. The pressure against their belly may help comfort them.  Don’t leave your baby alone on their stomach as this can be dangerous.
  • Swaddle them so that they feels secure and warm. Use a swaddler with the blanket attached so it won’t move over the baby’s face if it becomes loose. Swaddle only with the arms out after two months to prevent suffocation if the baby turns onto their tummy. 
  • Use gentle heat or touch. Give your baby a warm bath. Softly rub your baby's belly. Infant massage techniques can help your baby pass gas and promote relaxation.
  • Give your baby some private time. If nothing else seems to work, put your baby in their crib for five to 10 minutes.


Taking care of you

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you won’t be able to help your baby stop crying. What works one day, may not work the next.  This can be extremely frustrating and stressful.  

  • Take a break. Arrange ahead of time for someone to help you with the baby so that you can have a few moments to yourself. Get out of the house. Even an hour or two away will help you maintain a positive attitude.  
  • Share your feelings. It's normal for parents in this situation to feel helpless, depressed, guilty or angry. Confide in your spouse, partner or other good listener.
  • Try to stay positive. Don't measure your success as a parent by how much your baby cries. Colic isn't a result of poor parenting.
  • Make time for things that are important to you. Taking a walk, exercise, visiting with friends, eating well and sleep are all essential to your well-being and will make you a happier and healthier mom.
  • Never shake your baby. Shaking an infant hard can cause blindness, brain damage or even death. If you feel yourself losing patience, hand your baby to another trusted adult. If you're alone with your baby, put them down somewhere safe, such as in a crib. Leave the room and go to a place where you won’t hear the baby crying for a few minutes.
  • Let your doctor know if you are feeling depressed, angry or anxious. They can recommend ways to help.

Coping with a colicky baby can be one of the most trying times of parenthood. Take care of your baby and you and remember that this is all temporary. Soon your baby will be a happy, laughing bundle of joy.

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Pediatric Care

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