Your Brilliant Baby in Week 10: The Mystery of Colic

Baby’s Brain in Week 10

One of every five parents reading this right now may be experiencing an excruciating nightly routine: Your baby begins to cry, and nothing—not rocking, swaddling, or any other comfort measure—gets her to stop. Her piercing wails overtake your evenings, and despite your best efforts, there’s just no consoling your child.

Babies who cry three hours a day, three days a week, for three months have what most parents and pediatricians refer to as colic. This poorly understood condition afflicts about 20 percent of healthy babies, peaking (mainly in the evening) during Baby’s second month of life and then waning. Once you realize your child is crying excessively, phone her pediatrician to rule out any organic causes of long-term crying. The pediatrician may offer a little advice on treatments but lots of reassurance that you’ve done nothing to cause the colic to occur. (Read what one doctor has to saying about Baby’s crying jags.)

What the Research Shows

Researchers asked parents of newborns to keep journals of their babies’ activities in 15-minute segments, whether crying, sleeping, eating, or engaging with people and objects in the environment. Parents reported on various lifestyle issues: Is Baby breastfed or bottlefed? Do Mom and Dad sleep with their baby? Do they hold the baby most of the time?

The answers proved inconclusive. There were no specific commonalities among the babies who cried for three hours, three times a week for three months, and no specific differences between them and the babies who did not. And still, researchers cannot determine a cause for this excessive crying; therefore, treatment—except for rocking and carrying the baby, which reduces the crying by 50 percent—is limited. Most pediatricians do not advise parents to make any feeding changes, and there isn’t a medication available to treat colic.

Plus, says researcher Dr. Ronald Barr, MD, contrary to what your own parents or grandparents (or exasperated next-door neighbors!) might tell you, colic is not about indigestion or gas. The truth is, we don’t really know what causes colic, and doctors are unable to tell parents exactly how to alleviate its symptoms. Families typically try every conceivable gimmick and gadget—most of which don’t work for extended periods of time.

Along with crying bouts, your baby may look as if she’s in pain. The amazing reality of colicky babies, though, is that there’s really nothing medically wrong with them. In fact, babies with colic gain weight, don’t have allergies and—once the colicky period passes—don’t have problems sleeping. Infants do eventually outgrow the condition by four months of age.