By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly
About 25 percent of all newborns cry inconsolably for hours at a time, several times a day, even when healthy and well fed. This condition, known as colic, usually begins at about 2 to 3 weeks of age, intensifies around 6 weeks of age and improves by about 3 to 4 months.
Babies with colic will often scream and cry for two to three hours at a time and often seem as if they are in pain. The causes of colic are not known, but it is not thought to be from abdominal pain, food allergies, iron in infant formula, or gas, even though most babies with colic will pass a lot of gas and draw their legs up while they cry. Doctors now believe that the gas associated with colic is caused when a baby swallows air while crying.
Some differences between colicky babies and those that are sick include:
• Colicky babies have a good appetite and are otherwise healthy and growing normally. Sick babies may appear colicky, but don’t feed well.
• Colicky babies like to be held and touched. Sick babies seem uncomfortable when held.
• Colicky babies may spit up, but if our baby is vomiting or losing weight, call your child’s doctor. Vomiting is not a sign of colic.
• Colicky babies have normal stools. If your baby has diarrhea or blood in her stool, call your pediatrician.
Though there is no specific treatment that will make colic go away, here are some things that you can do to soothe your child and make both of your lives easier:
• Try feeding your baby to make sure that he is not hungry. Do not continue feeding your child if he is not.
• Try consoling your baby by walking around while holding her, or sit in a rocking chair.
• Try burping your baby more often during feedings.
• Place your baby across your lap on his belly and rub the baby’s back.
• Listen to music while rocking your baby.
Taking care of a baby with colic can be frustrating, and parents often blame themselves when they can’t console their child. But it’s important to remember that colic is no one’s fault and your child will eventually outgrow it.
If you are unsure whether your child is ill or has colic, call your pediatrician.
Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.
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