The thought of having a colicky baby can strike fear into the hearts of parents-to-be. Colic can make infancy a nightmare for parents with a low threshold for constant crying. All babies have fussy periods from time to time; what separates colic is the duration of the crying, number of days it occurs and the amount of time it lasts -- which will seem like forever, but this too shall pass.
Your baby has colic if he has fussy periods that last more than three hours a day, occur at least three days a week and persist for more than three weeks, assuming he has no other health problems. Colic differs from normal fussiness in that it normally takes place around the same time each day and occurs without any relationship to when he last ate, bowel movements or any other event. He might appear very uncomfortable, pulling his legs up, turning red in the face and having a high-pitched, distressed cry.
Colic affects around 25 percent of all babies, according to the Mayo Clinic website. It normally starts between the second and fourth week of life, the American Academy of Pediatrics explains -- about the time you begin congratulating yourself for having such a good baby. It reaches a peak around 6 weeks of age and then gradually improves until it becomes no more than a bad memory by age 4 or 5 months in most babies.
Your baby's doctor can tell you he has colic based on his symptoms, but he can't make the diagnosis in any other way, such as blood tests. If colic persists beyond the normal time limit, your baby might have some other problem rather than colic. If your baby suddenly starts crying for an extended period of time, don't assume it's colic if he also runs a fever, vomits profusely, starts losing weight or seems otherwise unwell, pediatrician Dr. Brett Taylor advises on his website, The Virtual Pediatrician. Babies with colic thrive despite the fact that they sound miserable for several hours a day. If your baby isn't thriving, seek medical attention.
Digestive issues such as gastroesophageal reflux can cause symptoms similar to colic. If you're breastfeeding, you might be eating something that's upsetting your baby's stomach, causing discomfort that appears similar to colic. Try eliminating the most likely culprits, such as dairy, caffeine or certain vegetables, like cabbage, from your diet. If you're bottle-feeding, he might have a milk allergy; switching to a different type of formula -- not a different brand, as they're all basically the same -- might help. Don't switch without talking to your baby's pediatrician first, though. Around 38 percent of colicky babies have a transient lactase deficiency and can't digest the milk sugar lactose well until around age 4 months, pediatrician and author Dr. William Sears explains. Lactase drops might help, but ask your doctor first.