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The standard, yet somewhat arbitrary, definition of colic is a total of three hours or more a day of irritability, fussiness or crying on more than three days a week for more than three weeks.
"Like height in adults, babies fall along a continuum," says Ron Barr, M.D.C.M., F.R.C.P.C., an infant-behavior researcher and professor of pediatrics at the University of British Columbia. "Some cry a little and some cry a lot. It doesn't mean there's something wrong with the baby."
The notion that colic sets in at 2 to 3 weeks of age is a fallacy, says pediatrician Marc Weissbluth, M.D., author of Your Fussy Baby (Ballantine Books). The condition usually peaks at 6 weeks of age and disappears by around 3 months.
"Parents of high criers are plagued by the fear that something is wrong with their ability to care for their child, but the condition is unrelated," Weissbluth says. "The normal ways of soothing babies—such as swaddling, rocking or offering something to suck on—barely or rarely work."
"There's no evidence that simethicone [the gas-passing agent in Mylicon and other anti-gas drops] helps colic," Barr says. However, very preliminary research involving exclusively breastfed infants published in Pediatrics found that while anti-gas drops are ineffective, Lactobacillus reuteri, a health-promoting bacterium available as a supplement, reduced crying in 95 percent of infants, though scientists can't explain the connection. Ask your pediatrician for advice.
There are no lasting side effects among babies who cry a lot—unless the baby is shaken or abused, cautions Barr: "Shaken baby syndrome is the most serious consequence of colic." Constant crying can overwhelm even the most patient parent, but it's OK to place your infant in his crib or other safe place or turn him over to another caregiver while you take a break. And remember, this too shall pass.