A Moment of Science

Colic

Babies cry. In fact, babies cry more in their first three months of life than at any other time.

How much crying is normal? What amount is too much? By too much, I don’t mean too much for your ears to take, but excessive to the point of being symptomatic of something serious?

The good news is that excessive crying in the first several months, if it’s not accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever or diarrhea, is probably just colic. Colic doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your baby. Colic is diagnosed when your baby is otherwise healthy, but cries excessively.

What qualifies as excessive crying? This is the bad news. Colic is defined by crying that lasts for more than three hours at a time for more than three days a week and for three or more consecutive weeks. The cries of a colicky baby are often more intense than normal crying too.

Unfortunately, once a baby with colic starts crying, it’s nearly impossible to calm the child. What causes colic seems to be a combination of a baby’s sensitive temperament, its immature nervous system, and environment. Though the first two factors are probably impossible to control, a caregiver can create a soothing environment for the baby. Soft music, swaddling, and gentle massage can help. If breastfeeding, avoiding caffeine has also sometimes proved helpful.

Occasionally, an allergy to baby formula is mistaken as colic. If there’s any reason to believe the crying might be symptomatic of another condition, then get your baby examined by a health professional.

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