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Baby Colic Symptoms and Remedies

I recently had a patient come to me with her six-week-old baby. She was exhausted and desperate, reporting that her son cried for hours at a time, especially at night. Her older children never had this problem and she was frustrated with trying to find ways to help her little one feel more comfortable. “Is this colic? What is colic?” she asked incredulously. What are the baby colic symptoms and remedies?

Colic is a common problem found in six to 13 percent of all infants. Colicky infants cry for an average of four hours a day, enough to irritate even the most loving parent. And persistent, inconsolable crying, especially in the evening, is the hallmark of colic.

Does Your Baby Have Colic?

If your little one is often inconsolable, and cries for long stretches of time (often during the evening hours), be sure to make an appointment with your family pediatrician. You and your child’s doctor need to make sure that there is no medical cause for your baby’s colic. While medical causes for colic are rare, if they are present, they should be treated as soon as possible.

To determine if there is an underlying cause for your baby’s crying; discuss the following questions with your pediatrician:

  • Is there a hernia or evidence of some other medical problem?
  • Is your child stooling too much or too little?
  • Is there any blood or mucous in the stool?
  • Is your child eating too much or too little?
  • Are the stools abnormally colored (clay-colored, frothy or very green, tar black)?
  • Is weight gain below what would be expected?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” further investigation by your doctor should be pursued. (Read more about the medical reasons some babies incessantly cry.)

Minimizing Colic’s Symptoms

There is no agreement about whether breastfed babies have more or less colic than bottlefed babies. And there is also controversy about whether foods eaten by the mother or infant contribute to colic. In addition, there is little scientific evidence that any treatment reduces the symptoms.

So, what is a parent to do? The answer for baby colic symptoms and remedies are different for different babies. Unfortunately, treating colic involves a certain amount of trial and error. Some common suggestions gleaned from my own experience, and the advice of other doctors and parents, include a variety of options. (Read what the bestselling parenting book authors have to say, here.)

Here are some popular ways to soothe your colicky baby:

  • If you are breastfeeding, consider eliminating cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables, milk products, caffeine, onions, chocolate, and garlic from your diet. Some studies have suggested that these foods increase the risk of colic. (If this makes a difference, mom should add those foods back into her diet one at a time to identify the offending food or foods.)
  • If you are formula feeding your baby, ask your pediatrician about changing to a non cow-milk–based formula. Although there is no data to support changing formulas, it occasionally does help.
  • Motion is often helpful in soothing fussy babies. Rock your baby or place her in a body carrier. (I used to take our infant daughter for a car ride which immediately quieted her.)
  • If breastfeeding is well established, consider a pacifier.
  • Burp your baby often—including after sucking on a pacifier and especially after feeding. Babies can swallow a significant amount of air that causes gas.
  • Reduce stimulation in your baby’s environment and offer her a relaxing, fuss-free space to unwind.
  • For little ones who don’t seem to find solace in a completely quiet room, try employing the use of “static” sound, such as a hairdryer, vacuum cleaner, or white noise machine. Some parents find that nondescript background noise can be quite soothing for their fussy baby.
  • If you don’t already swaddle your baby, try wrapping her up in a cozy blanket.
  • Increase the amount of nighttime feedings.
  • Ask your pediatrician if a prescription medication may be a good option for you and your baby. (NOTE: The only drug shown to be effective, dicyclomine, does carry about a five-percent risk of significant side effects.)
  • Ask your pediatrician about over-the-counter Simethicone products or “grip water” products; these may help in some cases.

Since colic is almost always a self-limited problem, treatment should not involve risk. Be sure to check with your pediatrician for treatment suggestions, and always get your doctor involved if the problem worsens or there is a complication from a potential remedy.

And remember, most babies outgrow colic. Although it may appear that the end is nowhere in sight, don’t forget the popular adage used by so many pediatricians: “This too shall pass!”

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