Dr. Greene

Colic will not last forever!

Almost all babies develop a fussy period. The timing varies, but it usually begins at about three weeks of age and peaks somewhere between four and six weeks of age. For most infants the most intense fussiness is in the evening. When the crying lasts for longer than three hours a day, for at least three days a week, for at least three weeks, it is called colic.
You don’t have to wait three weeks, though, to tell if a baby has colic. The cry is noticeably different than typical fussiness. It starts and stops suddenly (paroxysmal crying spells), the cry is louder and higher pitched (sounds more like the baby is in pain or screaming rather than crying), the baby’s muscle tone is increased (fingers clenched, arms stiff, legs pulled up, or belly tense), and they are very difficult to calm until the crying spell stops – often with the passing of gas or a stool.
I believe that, as difficult as a normal fussy period or colic can be for babies and for their parents, it can have a silver lining: changing deeply ingrained relationship habits. Even after the miracle of a new birth, many parents and families would revert back to their previous schedules and activities within a few weeks - if the new baby would only remain quiet and peaceful. It would be easy to continue reading what you want to read, going where you like to go, doing what you like to do as before, if only the baby would happily comply. Instead, the baby's exasperating fussy period forces families to leave their previous ruts and develop new dynamics which include this new individual. Colic demands attention. As parents grope for solutions to their child's crying, they notice a new individual with new needs. They instinctively pay more attention, talk more to the child, and hold the child more - all because of the colic. Colic is a powerful rite of passage, a postnatal labor pain where new patterns of family life are born.
Although there are a number of different colic solutions that have been shown to work in some children, helping a particular child with colic often involves experimentation and observation. Different children are comforted by different measures. The process involves trying many different things, and paying attention to what seems to help, even just a little bit.
Holding your child is something that can bring comfort to both of you. This will not spoil your child. Singing lullabies to your baby can be powerfully soothing. It is no accident that lullabies have developed in almost every culture.
As babies cry, they swallow more air, creating more gas and perhaps more abdominal pain, which causes more crying. This vicious cycle can be difficult to break. Gentle rocking can be very calming (this is directly comforting and seems to help them pass gas). When you get tired, an infant swing is a good alternative for babies at least 3 weeks old with good head control. Holding your daughter in an upright position may help (this aids the movement of gas, and decrease heartburn). Perhaps a warm towel or a warm water bottle on the abdomen can help.
There are a lot of stories about foods that breastfeeding moms should avoid. Most often I hear about abstaining from broccoli, cabbage, beans, and other gas producing foods. Studies that have looked at consumption of these foods do not show any increase in gas or crying in the babies. This makes sense to me. The gas we get from beans comes from the undigested part that remains in our intestines. The portion that enters our blood stream and then makes its way into the breastmilk is not the part that causes gas. Stimulants such as caffeine, or caffeine related compounds (those found in chocolate) could make it harder for mom and baby to relax. The other foods in mom's diet that are most likely to cause a problem are dairy products and nuts. I would try eliminating these for a few weeks. Other foods may irritate the baby. Again, experimentation and observation will guide you.
Colic is not a reason to stop breastfeeding. For many reasons, breastmilk is best for baby and breastfeeding is the ideal way to deliver breastmilk. For moms who bottle-feed, either with pumped breastmilk or formula, changing bottles may help with colic. In a recent survey conducted by BornFree, over 90% of moms reported an improvement in colic symptoms when they switched to BornFree bottles.
Even though I believe colic exists to bind us closer as a family unit, taking a break is a good idea. Each of you can take charge and relieve the other. Perhaps you can find someone else to give you both a break so you are able to spend alone time with your significant other. Time for oneself is an important part of the new family dynamic. You will be able to pay more loving attention to your baby when you've had a chance to get refreshed.
Colic will not last forever! After about six weeks of age it begins improving, slowly but surely, and is generally gone by twelve weeks of age. In the meantime, as you try many different things paying attention to your daughter's subtle responses, and as you work together supporting each other, lasting new depths of relationship will be forged.


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Dr. Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing pediatrician, author, speaker, children’s health advocate, and father of four.

Dr. Levine

Dr. Alanna Levine is a New York based pediatrician and a mom of two children.