October 29, 2010
Dear Mayo Clinic:
My 7-week-old son is often inconsolable, to the point where he will cry for up to six hours a day. He is extremely gassy and at times seems to be in pain and cannot nap comfortably. I have tried switching formula and bottles, but nothing helps. Our pediatrician says that it's most likely colic. Please help me understand this condition and what I can do to help him. Is this something he will outgrow?
Colic is a pattern of infant behavior that often can be recognized using the "rule of threes" — 1) crying at least three hours per day, 2) for at least three days a week, 3) and lasting at least three weeks in an infant who is growing normally and is otherwise healthy. All the usual baby-calming techniques, such as diaper changing, feeding, rocking, and walking, may not console the baby. As you discovered, changes in formula typically don't help either.
We don't know what causes colic. About 25 percent of babies experience colic. It occurs with about the same frequency in boys and girls, as well as in babies who are breast-fed and formula-fed. While it can be very stressful for parents, colic doesn't have any long-term effects on the baby's health or development.
Perhaps the following reassurance is a small comfort right now, but your baby will outgrow colic. Typically, colic starts when a baby is around 1 month old and usually resolves by age 4 months. In a small number of babies, symptoms might last longer. By age 9 months, 90 percent of babies with colic have outgrown it.
Your decision to check in with your pediatrician about your child's fussiness and persistent crying was a good one. A thorough history and physical examination can confirm that no serious underlying medical concern is causing the baby's persistent crying. While infants with colic seem very fussy to parents and care providers, doctors observe that babies with colic appear physically well, gain weight appropriately, and grow and develop as expected. If symptoms such as fever, vomiting or diarrhea are present, your pediatrician may want to investigate further.
So, what's a parent to do with a colicky baby? Take care of yourself and the baby. Hours of crying can be challenging for everyone in the household, but recognize that crying for prolonged periods will not hurt your baby. Ask others for help and support. Call in a friend, relative or grandparent for breaks that are necessary and very important. Doctors often advise that busy parents of colicky infants try to catch up on their rest when the baby is sleeping.
Mix up your strategies to calm the baby. One of these techniques may soothe your growing infant: rocking, walking, strolling outdoors, singing, background music, warm baths, a baby swing or a pacifier. You can also try slowing the pace of the feedings while providing frequent burping. The gentle movement and close comfort that comes with carrying the baby around the home with you in a safe chest pack harness might also be soothing. And, remember, this phase of your baby's life will pass.
— Chad Brands, M.D., Pediatrics, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.