How to Fight the Colic Baby Blues

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Colic affects 25 percent of babies. Credit: Getty Images


Nothing kills the bliss of being a new mother quite like colic, a condition marked by hours of constant crying that afflicts 25 percent of all babies.

Experts say they routinely see mothers near the end of their ropes, wondering what they did to cause their baby so much misery, and that study after study has shown no known specific causes. Even the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis says numerous studies have failed to find a cause for all that wailing.

It's not allergies, lactose intolerance, maternal anxiety, spicy food, rich food or the birth order of the child. It's also not mom's fault. Colic can occur equally in boys and girls and the number of children afflicted has remained constant over the years.

Brown University has a colic clinic that families go to for help after exhausting every other option. It offers medical and mental health professionals to the families.

"We treat colic as a family issue," says Barry Lester, director of the Brown Center for the Study of Children at Risk. "The thing to remember is this will end."

There are a couple of tricks to figuring out if your baby has colic. The first is what Dr. Richard Shannon, a family practitioner in Columbus, Ga., calls the Rule of Threes:

  • Baby is less than 3 months old
  • Baby cries for three or more hours at a time
  • Baby cries for three or more days a week
  • Baby's crying occurs for more than three weeks
Meanwhile, the symptoms for colic include:
  • Crying
  • Flushed face
  • Balled fists
  • Furrowed brow
  • Legs drawn up
Critical to parents surviving this time is making sure they get an hour or two break every day from the crying. Leave the baby with a sitter and go out to dinner, Lester says. Colic can drive a wedge into the parent/child relationship at a critical period in bonding, he adds. It's normal to feel angry, guilty and even resentful when you're faced with a screaming baby for hours on end.

Some parents swear by putting the baby in the car seat and going for a drive, or placing the child in a carrier on top of a clothes dryer while it's running to calm the child, Shannon says. Most babies who have colic outgrow it by 3 months. The worst cases can last 9 months, at which point parents should be awarded a gold medal.

Related: 10 Tips to Soothe a Crying Baby

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.