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Q: We have a two-month-old and the question is what is the best way to handle a colicky baby? Is there a special way to feed her or hold her when feeding? Should we burp her more often? How long until it goes away and my wife and I can get some sleep?
A: Colic is a very common problem in young babies and unfortunately there is still no known medical cause of colic. Colic is generally seen in babies within the first few weeks of life and generally goes away by the time the baby is about three months old. The usual symptoms that you see with colic are: excessive crying, sometimes associated with "gassiness" or a distended abdomen. The crying usually occurs towards the later part of the day (i.e. late afternoon, early evening) and can last for many hours.
For most babies, the timing of their fussy periods is generally consistent from day-to-day, although there are some children with colic who cry throughout the day. Researchers have done some studies to try and figure out the cause of colic and there is no one underlying cause that's been found. There does not seem to be anything different in the intestines of babies who have colic and they grow up to be normal, active children.
Experts recommend that you try to sooth the child. For some reason, rhythmic activity seems to help to settle some colicky babies when they are crying. One of the techniques that seems to work well is going for a drive in the car (obviously, with the baby in a car seat). Some other types of rhythmic activity include just gentle rocking, walking with the baby in a Snugli, and using an infant swing. Pacifiers and swaddling the baby in a blanket often help. For some babies, having a rhythmic sound that they listen to seems to help: either a musical tape or the sound of the vacuum cleaner soothes some babies.
People have tried various remedies to help "quiet the belly," but there's no scientific evidence that these work. In particular, some parents have tried giving children simethicone, which is an anti-gas agent; however, while it won't do any harm, there is no scientific evidence to prove that it makes a difference. There is also no evidence that changing types of formula makes a difference either.
It certainly would not hurt to try to burp her more often (as she is feeding). There are some babies who do tend to swallow excessive air when they're eating and certainly that can cause them to have more gas in their stomach. For bottle-fed babies, you would want to burp them after two ounces of feeding, and for a breast-fed baby certainly between each breast.
The vast majority of babies who have colic get better by 3 to 3-1/2 months of age. Additionally, all babies, even those who don't have colic, will cry. That crying reaches its peak at six to eight weeks of age and then becomes less frequent.
If it seems as though the symptoms are not going away or you feel you need further advice about management, you should definitely contact your pediatrician's office. Also, if you are upset by the crying, and you don't know how to manage it, there are parent support groups and hotlines available.
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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.