Your sweet newborn sleeps 20 hours a day in her first few weeks of life. You're breathing a sigh of relief that this new-parenting deal isn't so hard, after all. Then it starts--the frantic crying, uncontrollable no matter what you do, much of the day and most of the night. The dreaded colic has struck. When will it end? And what can you do in the meantime to get your little one (and yourself) through it?
What Is Colic?
Doctors define colic by the "rule of threes". All infants cry and fuss, but when the crying lasts for more than three hours per day, for more than three days per week, for more than three weeks, your baby has colic, according to Colic-Baby-Bootcamp.com
What Causes Colic?
No one really knows what causes colic. When your doctor cannot find an organic cause for your baby's discomfort, the catch-all diagnosis is "colic". While excessive crying may cause a baby to gulp air and in turn cause gas, gas pains (contrary to popular belief) do not seem to be the cause of the crying. An immature nervous system and an inborn sensitivity to stimuli are thought to be contributing factors, with colic more frequently presenting in infants who are born prematurely.
Colic symptoms are also most likely to occur in the evening hours when the baby has simply had too much stimulation for the day and has no way to express her frustration but to cry.
Colic is not more common in first-born infants, and if you are a first-time parent with a fussy baby, do not let anyone tell you the baby is reacting to your own nervousness. Colic is not your fault.
When Will It End?
Colic nearly always begins by the second or third week of life, with fussiness peaking at six weeks and gradually decreasing until most cases are resolved by three months. Ninety percent of all colicky babies have substantially reduced symptoms by four months of age. (See Reference 2) Be aware, though, that many experts advise that these time frames should be calculated from the child's due date rather than the actual birthday. (See Reference 2)
Despite the uncertainty as to the causes of colic, there are measures parents can take to give their babies a measure of comfort. Many crying infants are soothed by motion (especially swinging and rocking); by white noise (for example, a vacuum), which simulates the noisy environment of the womb; by swaddling, which also approximates the cozy womb environment; and by sucking (a pacifier, a bottle, the breast), according to Colic-Baby-Bootcamp.com.
A sleepy baby is a fussy baby. Try to allow your newborn to be awake for no more than two hours at a time. While you can't force a baby to sleep, you can facilitate rest by following the above steps. (See Reference 2)
Of course you should have your pediatrician rule out a physical cause for the crying. All babies suffer a degree of GERD due to their immature digestive systems, which is why they spit up. However, if your baby seems to be suffering from painful reflux (crying when spitting up or projectile vomiting), then a trial of a prescription antacid may be warranted. Mothers who are breastfeeding may experiment with their diet to try eliminating any foods that might irritate your baby's sensitive digestive system.
Finally, if you cannot comfort your baby and find yourself "losing it" in a given moment, put your baby down in a safe place, walk away and give yourself a break. You are not a bad parent for doing so---in fact, you are doing what is best for your baby and yourself.
To a parent of a newborn in the throes of colic, it may seem the misery will go on forever. Knowing that it will get better---and soon---is key to surviving those difficult weeks.
You may wonder whether your child will be fussy, overly sensitive, or have "high needs" throughout her life. A landmark 1972 study published in "The Journal of Pediatrics" does indicate that colicky babies are somewhat more likely to have "difficult" temperaments than other children. But with patience and time will come the smiles, the laughter and the unconditional love that you always knew parenting would bring.