Nothing is more stressful or upsetting to a parent than not being able to soothe their crying infant. Is the baby hungry? Is the baby in pain? Is the baby wet? When is the crying abnormal?
Crying is normal for a baby.
However, some babies cry more than others. When an otherwise healthy infant cries excessively and inconsolably, pediatricians might call this colic.
Pediatricians generally use the “rule of threes” to diagnose colic. The rule of threes describes the crying episodes as having started when the infant is about 3 weeks old. These episodes typically last more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week, and for more than 3 weeks in row. It typically peaks at about 6 to 8 weeks of age and subsides by 4 months.
Even though some babies grimace, scream vigorously, clench their bodies, and arch their back, this is not necessarily a sign that the infant is sick or has belly pain. In fact, crying babies swallow air, which pediatricians now believe actually causes the gas in infants.
The cause of colic is a mystery.
There are different theories with no specific conclusion. Some pediatricians view it as a natural developmental stage where the babies are adjusting to different sensations and experiences outside of the womb. Others attribute it to an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. There is even a hypothesis that colic results from an imbalance of serotonin and melatonin in the brain.
Trying to soothe the colicky baby can be tricky and nerve-racking.
If unsuccessful it can lead to postpartum depression and shaken baby syndrome.
Some interventions that can be done include swaddling the baby, shushing loudly in the infant’s ears, swinging the baby, allowing the baby to suck on a pacifier, and placing the baby on his/her side or stomach. These techniques are most effective when done together. Enlist family members to help, especially when you are feeling frustrated.
Red flags that could indicate a more serious condition include fever, frequent vomiting, bloody stools, poor weight gain and feeding. Keeping a diary of how often your baby cries, sleeps, eats, poops, and pees may help you discover if the crying is related to a feeding problem or if there is a specific pattern to it. If none of your interventions work, then bring your infant to a medical provider to be evaluated for an illness.
- Dr. Ronnie Shalev is a Board Certified Emergency Medicine Physician