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Managing colic and keeping your cool

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Caring for an infant who has colic can be exhausting, confusing and stressful — even for experienced parents. Colic isn’t a result of poor parenting skills, so don’t blame yourself for your baby’s colic. Instead, focus on ways to make this difficult stage a little more bearable. Remember, this too shall pass.

Unfortunately, there are few treatment options for colic. Over-the-counter drugs, such as simethicone (Mylicon Infants Gas Relief, Little Tummys Gas Relief, others), haven’t proved helpful for colic, and other medications can have serious side effects.

Some studies suggest that treatment with probiotics — substances that help maintain the natural balance of “good” bacteria in the digestive tract — might soothe colic. However, more research is needed to determine the effects of probiotics on infants. Because of this, most Mayo Clinic pediatricians don’t recommend the routine use of probiotics in infants.

Some parents also report trying alternative therapies, such as herbal teas, herbal remedies or glucose. Alternative therapies for colic haven’t proved to be consistently helpful, and some might be dangerous. Before giving your baby any medication or substance to treat colic, consult your child’s medical provider.

While you might not be able to treat colic, there are things you can do to try to soothe your baby and reduce or lessen the severity of the crying episodes. Consider these suggestions.

Your feeding style

 Check that you’re not overfeeding your baby. Try to wait at least 2 to 2 1/2 hours between feedings. During feedings, hold your baby as upright as possible and burp him or her often to reduce the chances of air swallowing.

If you feed your baby with a bottle, use a curved bottle. A bottle with a collapsible bag also might help. Some bottles are especially designed to minimize the amount of air your baby takes in while feeding. If bottle feedings typically take less than 15 to 20 minutes, consider using a nipple with a smaller hole.

If you use formula, you might consider giving your baby a hypoallergenic formula, such as whey hydrolysate formula, for one week. If your baby’s symptoms don’t improve, continue using the original formula. Avoid frequently switching your baby’s formula because it typically hasn’t been shown to help with colic and can lead to more stomach distress for your baby.

If you breast-feed, try to empty one breast completely before switching to the other breast. This will give your baby more hindmilk, the fattier and potentially more satisfying milk at the end of a feeding.

Your diet

 If you breast-feed and you suspect that a food or drink you consume may be making your baby fussier than usual, avoid it for several days to see if it makes a difference.

Consider eliminating dairy products or other allergenic foods, which can cause allergic symptoms in breast-fed infants. Research suggests that in some special cases avoiding foods such as cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy and fish for a week can reduce infant fussiness.

However, if you eliminate a food and you don’t see a dramatic difference in colic symptoms, you can add the food back into your diet. There’s no need to follow a very limited diet if your baby’s symptoms improved for only a short amount of time before coming back, and eating a variety of foods provides more nutritional breast milk.

Also, try to eliminate or reduce the amount of caffeine in your diet. Caffeine in your breast milk can keep your baby awake for prolonged periods or cause agitation. Some moms say avoiding gassy or spicy foods can help — but this hasn’t been proved.

Your lifestyle

If you or your partner smoke, it’s time to quit. Research suggests that exposure to cigarette smoke can increase your baby’s risk of colic, in addition to other health risks for you and your baby.

Calming techniques

 For most babies with colic, soothing techniques can often bring calm and lessen the crying — at least for a while. The trick is finding which techniques your son or daughter likes. It might be swaddling, using a pacifier, or being held or lying down in a certain position, such as on his or her side or stomach.

Babies with colic often find certain sounds calming. A steady background of soft noise or “shushing” sounds may help. Turn on the kitchen or bathroom exhaust fan, run the vacuum in the next room, use a white noise machine or play music of environmental sounds, such as ocean waves or a gentle rain. Sometimes, the tick of a clock or metronome does the trick.

Also keep in mind that babies with colic often like motion. Sit with your baby in a rocking chair, carry baby around the house in a baby sling, or take a walk with your baby in a stroller.

 

Keeping your cool

Listening to a baby cry is stressful, especially when it seems to go on for hours on end. Even for the best of parents, coping with colic is tough. When you’re all tensed up over your baby’s crying, look for ways to calm yourself. Think about the happy moments you’ll spend with your baby and the milestones ahead. And while taking care of your baby, remember to also take care of yourself.

  • Take a break. If your baby’s cries are getting to you, slow down. Take a deep breath and count to 10. Repeat a calm word or phrase, such as, “Take it easy.” Imagine yourself in a calm, relaxing place. Play soothing music in the background. In some cases, the best thing to do may be to put baby down in his or her crib for a period of time while you walk into another room and give yourself a break.
  • Get out of the house. Put your baby in the stroller or a baby carrier and go for a walk together. The exertion might take your mind off the tears — and the movement or change of scenery might soothe your baby. You might even buckle the baby into his or her car seat and take a short drive, provided you feel that you can concentrate on your driving.
  • Ask for help. Let a loved one take over for a while. Take advantage of baby-sitting offers from trusted friends, neighbors or other close contacts. Use the time to take a nap or do something you enjoy. Even an hour on your own can help renew your coping strength. Expressing yourself can help, too. When you’re getting frustrated, speak up. Saying the words out loud can help ease the tension. The more relaxed you are, the more able you’ll be to handle and cope with baby’s crying spells. It’s also good for baby. Babies can sense when you’re tense and stressed out.
  • Don’t judge yourself. Most of all, don’t measure your success as a parent by how much your baby cries. Colic isn’t a result of poor parenting, and inconsolable crying isn’t a sign of your baby rejecting you. You and your baby will get through this phase. Colic typically goes away on its own by age 4 months.

Dr. Klaas and Dr. Cook are co-editors of  Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Years, from which this is an excerpt.

Walter J. Cook, M.D.

Dr. Cook is a specialist in general pediatric care within the Department of Pediatrics, Mayo Clinic Rochester, Minn., and an assistant professor at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. A father of three, including twins, he has cared for thousands of babies in more than 25 years of pediatric practice.

Kelsey M. Klaas, M.D.

Dr. Klaas is a pediatrician in the Division of General Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center in Rochester, Minn. She is the mother of two children who brings both a medical and new parent perspective to her practice and writing.

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