How can I tell if my baby has colic?

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Advice & Tips

Some babies just need to cry, but the good news is it won’t last forever. Here’s how to tell if your baby’s tears are the colicky kind.

Colic is typically defined as full-force crying for at least three hours per day, on at least three days per week, for at least three weeks. But lots of babies cry just a little less than that, or maybe you aren’t really sure how much they’re crying because it feels like it’s off and on all day long, or what the heck does “full-force” mean anyway? (My husband once used a decibel reader. It was 110 decibels, or the equivalent of a chainsaw, only a whole lot shriller.) So, it’s not exactly straightforward—and parents are desperate to know why their babies won’t stop wailing.

According to Karen Leis, a paediatrician in Saskatoon, we don’t really know why some infants develop colic. “It’s a developmental stage for some babies,” she says.

When I ask what can help, Leis says that, in discussion with their docs, breastfeeding moms can try a limited trial of probiotics (although the verdict’s still out on their usefulness) or eliminating certain foods, such as dairy, and bottle-feeding parents can opt for a different formula. Some parents also query about a tongue-tie, which can interfere with feeding (and a hungry baby equals a fussy baby).

Here’s the problem: It’s common for none of these things to help, and you just have to wait it out. “It’s so hard to do nothing,” says Leis. “But often, the right answer is just time.” Many parents report waking up one day and the screaming has magically stopped, usually when their baby is around three months old.

Leis knows how overwhelming it can be to listen to your baby crying for hours, especially if you’re alone. “It’s completely OK to put the baby down safely in their crib and go take a break,” she says. “Babies can cry on their own for a few minutes while you take five.”

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