By Dr. Deena Blanchard
"Could it be?" Parents will ask in hush whispers? The “C-word”? That's right, colic. Colic is a word that can draw fear in the hearts of even the most experienced parent. As a mom of a child who had colic, I can say first hand that those weeks are really challenging as a parent.
What exactly is colic?
All babies cry some and some cry more than others. For most babies, crying will start to increase around the second week of life and peaks at six weeks of life. Colic is defined by the rule of threes. Colicky babies cry for more than 3 hours a day for more than 3 days a week. Commonly, babies with colic will cry around the same time every day, with the most common times being late afternoon/early evening. Between periods of crying and fussiness, colicky babies will act in an age-appropriate manner. Typically colic will start around 3 weeks of age, peaks around 6 weeks of age and greatly improve by 14 weeks of age.
What causes colic?
The truth is that no one knows exactly what causes some babies to have colic. There is some thought that it represents the upper limits of crying that most infants do. Babies with colic can be difficult to soothe and what works on one day may not work the next. There are other theories that think it may be related to an immature gut and nervous system. We do know that parents DO NOT cause their little ones to have colic. It is important to realize that there is nothing you have done as a parent to cause your baby to have colic.
Should I talk to my pediatrician about my child’s symptoms?
Absolutely! It is important for your pediatrician to rule out other causes of prolonged crying such as food intolerance or reflux.
Is there anything I can do to help my baby?
After your pediatrician rules out any underlying disease; the most important thing is to realize while these can be a challenging few weeks, your baby is healthy. Infants with colic are healthy, growing and thriving developmentally. It may seem impossible to believe but the crying will not last forever. Some tips for soothing a fussy baby include: introducing a pacifier, white noise, rocking, swaddling, and bouncing with your infant. Some studies have shown that using probiotic drops in infants with colic can help reduce the amount of crying. Walking with your baby in a baby carrier or going out for a stroll (or drive in the car) can help as well. Keep in mind some of these things will work at times but nothing will work all the time.
Unfortunately, babies this age are not predictable and that can be frustrating when your little one is colicky. As adults, we tend to be rational, thinking, planning individuals but sadly our little ones are not. You may have done X yesterday and your baby slept for four hours straight. Then you do the same today and it doesn't work. Babies this age act unpredictably, and worked today may not work tomorrow. If you can accept that randomness from about 2-13 weeks of life, it will make it easier to get through (yes, easier said than done).
Seriously though, will this ever end?
As a parent when your little is crying for even a few minutes it can feel like an eternity. The symptoms of colic start to improve around 8-10 weeks of age and dramatically improve by around 14 weeks of age. The other good news is that having colic as an infant does not predict your little one’s temperament as they get older.
Having a baby with colic can be really frustrating and challenging as a parent. It can be truly nerve racking! It takes a village to raise a child and there is no shame in asking for help. It is okay for you to need a break. Let family or friends watch the baby so you can nap, shower, go out with a friend, or do something that is relaxing for you. If no one has reached out to you, they may not want to bother you. Ask for help. If you are feeling overwhelmed and don't know where to start, start by calling your pediatrician. They can help you and provide you with more resources.
When you are in the trenches, it is hard to imagine that this period will ever end but once it passes you start to forget just how hard it was. Keep in mind, it's nothing you did or didn't do, and just because your child is on the more fussy end now does not mean they will stay like that forever. My seven year old cried every day for weeks 3-10 of life and he is the sweetest, most adorable, easy going child. So hang in there. As with most things in life, this too shall pass.