Colic is a condition in which a baby starts to cry for extended periods of time, and often for no obvious reason (no fever, for example). The crying is a response to intense abdominal pain, and doctors use what they call the “Rule of Three” to help identify it. If a baby cries for three or more hours a day, three or more days a week, and for at least three weeks, the diagnosis may be colic. Most babies outgrow the condition by three months of age, but some cases have been known to last for up to a year.
Causes of Infant Colic
Doctors have identified several different triggers that can lead to colic in some babies. Not every baby that experiences colic will develop it for the same reason. In some cases, the baby's digestive system may not be fully developed at birth. In others, a food allergy is the culprit; this can even be an allergy to something that the mom is eating, if breastfeeding. (Some studies indicate that breastfeeding lowers the chances of a baby developing colic.)
Sometimes babies will swallow air as they're feeding. This can cause extra gas and bloating in their tummies, which makes the colic symptoms worse. Some babies also become extra fussy if they have too much activity in their day. They need plenty of quiet and rest, and keeping an overactive schedule with them in tow can lead to colic.
Symptoms of Colic
Extended Periods of Crying
This is usually a strong cry, and nothing that the parent does seems to calm the baby down. Crying begins after meal times; it usually begins at a set time of day, shortly after feeding. A lot of parents notice that the crying will end just as suddenly as it began.
Lack of Sleep
Some babies will tire themselves out by crying and fall asleep, but babies suffering from colic won't normally do this. They just continue crying until the pain runs its course. They may be unusually fussy and irritable, and it can take them hours to fall asleep.
Upset Tummy Symptoms
The baby will pull his knees up to his chest and arch his back. He may clench his fists and swing his arms and legs. His tummy may appear hard and swollen, as if it's filled with gas (which it likely is).
The best methods of treatment for colic involve calming the baby down so he can sleep. Swaddling the baby, rocking him, or having him lay on his side or stomach can sometimes calm him down. You can also try burping the baby or massaging his tummy. White noise works great with some babies, such as the sound of static on a radio or running water. Gripe water for babies is an all-natural remedy that you can find in the baby health section of your local grocery store; many parents swear by it. Letting the baby nurse or suck on a finger or a pacifier can also help.
When to See the Doctor
It's a good idea to see your pediatrician if any symptoms appear over and above the crying. Signs of fever or changes in the color or texture of the stool are considered red flags. If the baby's cry switches to a moan or a shrill, piercing scream, it could mean something more serious is wrong. If the baby becomes lethargic during the non-crying periods, that's another sign that you should call the doctor.