All parents-to-be expect to deal with occasional bouts of crying, but almost nothing can prepare you for the inconsolable tears and screams of a colicky baby.
Experts estimate that about 30 percent of babies will experience colic at some point. Think your baby's one of them? The first step is to identify the problem:
Colic typically follows the "rule of threes," says Dr. Alan Greene, pediatrician and author of the book Feeding Baby Green. If your baby is crying for three or more hours a day (primarily in the evening), three or more days a week and is under 3 months old, then, assuming other habits like sleeping, eating and body temperature are normal, you're likely dealing with colic.
Traditionally, the medical community has looked at colic as a behavioral condition that comes from too much stress or over-stimulation, similar to how we used to think ulcers in adults were caused by stress, Greene says.
A recent study, though, has indicated there may be something that is actually causing physical pain in these children, perhaps stemming from their intestines. While more research is still needed, Greene says you may find relief by giving your child probiotics.
Nursing moms will naturally transfer probiotics to their babies-eating a high culture yogurt or probiotic packet can boost that effect (just make sure to choose a product that has five billion colonies in it, regular yogurt has just one billion). If you're formula feeding, look for a probiotic formula, or ask your doctor about sprinkling it on your existing product. It's also worth asking whether your baby could be allergic to cow's milk, Greene says.
While your natural instinct is to do everything you can to ease your baby's discomfort, Greene reminds parents to take care of themselves first: "In case of an emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first," he says, quoting the now famous in-flight safety videos.
"This is a major life-changing situation, and you really need to be able to take care of yourself to take care of your baby," he says.
Make sure to take plenty of naps, especially when the baby is sleeping, and consume the kinds of foods that make you feel best-Greene recommends eating the kind of food you'd choose if you needed to attend an important meeting.
During this time, give yourself permission to ask friends and family for the kind of support you need most, says Dr. Linda Gilkerson, professor and executive director of the Fussy Baby Network at the Erikson Institute in Chicago. Whether you're looking for someone to come and sit with you when your baby is crying the most or you want someone to drop off food that you can eat with one hand, this is a special time when it's all right to reach out, Gilkerson says.
Try creating slow, rhythmic routines that will soothe both you and the baby, she suggests, like making a plan to walk back and forth in front of all of the windows every day when she starts getting fussy.
Frustrated parents can also take advantage of a unique local resource: Gilkerson's organization operates a "Warm Line" from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday for parents with a fussy baby, whether or not she has colic. "Putting a name on it and sharing it with another person who is supportive is really, really important," she says, explaining that you can call (888) 431-BABY to speak to someone for no charge. The Fussy Baby Network also offers in-home visits with sliding-scale fees, as well as in-clinic service (erikson.edu/fbn.aspx or e-mail email@example.com).
The good news? If it is colic, the worst symptoms tend to peak around 3-6 weeks. "About the time it gets unbearable, it starts to get better," Greene says.
And it can actually have a positive effect on families, bringing them closer and preparing them for the changes that parenthood will ultimately bring. "If babies weren't demanding a lot of attention, then it would be pretty easy to fall back into your pre-baby patterns," he says.
See more of Laura's stories here.