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“Colicky” is a label given to babies who cry for more than three hours a day, three days a week for more than three weeks. But most experts believe it is an overused, ambiguous term at best. “‘Colic’ is an old-fashioned term that actually means ‘upset stomach,’ which it usually isn’t,” says pediatrician Harvey N. Karp, M.D., author of the book and DVD The Happiest Baby on the Block (Bantam). “But I think the term should continue to be used in some cases,” Karp adds. “About 2 percent of babies have a condition, such as acid reflux or food allergies, that causes them to cry with tummy pain.”
Possible Causes Of Colic
The type of hysterical crying referred to as colic usually begins at 2 weeks to 6 weeks old, generally in the late afternoon or early evening. Why 1 in 5 babies cries in this way is a mystery. One theory outlined in the book Your Fussy Baby (Ballentine Books) by pediatrician Marc Weissbluth, M.D., is that some babies are born with out-of-sync levels of serotonin and melatonin. Since serotonin is linked to feelings of happiness and calmness, and melatonin regulates wakefulness and sleep, such imbalances could explain why these babies cry and won’t sleep. Karp believes some babies cry a lot because they miss the snug quarters, constant rocking and soothing sounds of the womb.
So you can lose the label, but if you’re left with the crying, how do you stop it? The best calming tactics involve vibration and noise. Karp suggests a technique he calls the “5 S’s”: swaddling; side/stomach position (holding your swaddled baby snugly on her left side or stomach); shushing sounds (aka white noise, such as a fan); swinging; and sucking (a bottle, breast or pacifier). Or, try taking your baby for a car ride; walking or rocking her; or laying her on your lap and caressing her back.
You can also give probiotics a try: A study in Pediatrics found that probiotic drops containing Lactobacillus reuteri significantly reduced crying in colicky babies. Additionally, pediatrician Robert Sears, M.D., has had success treating colic with Colief, a remedy from the U.K. that contains lactase; this enzyme helps break down the lactose in breast milk and formula that some infants have trouble digesting.
If nothing seems to soothe your baby, she could have a medical problem, and you should see your doctor. Still, take heart: Experts (and parents) say the crying eventually stops, usually when a baby is 3 months to 4 months old.