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What is colic?

Colic is a problem that affects some babies during the first three to four months of life. It is defined by the "rule of three": crying at least 3 hours per day, more than 3 days per week, and for 3 weeks duration or more. It can be very stressful and frustrating to parents. Colic usually begins suddenly, with loud and mostly continuous crying.

What causes colic?

Physicians are not certain what causes colic. There are several theories about why colic may or may not occur, including the following:

What are the symptoms of colic?

A child who is otherwise well, who cries or is fussy several hours a day, especially from 6 pm to 10 pm, with no apparent reason, may have colic. Also, babies with colic may burp frequently or pass a significant amount of gas, but this is thought to be due to swallowing air while crying, and is not a cause of colic. The face may be flushed. The abdomen may be tense with legs drawn toward it. The hands may be clenched and the feet are often cold.

The symptoms of colic may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

Who is at risk for colic?

Infants who are either under or over fed may be more susceptible to colic. Those who are allergic to formula or something in the mother's diet (if breastfed) are prone to colic symptoms. Infants in the 0 to 3 month age range who are started on cereal or other high carbohydrate food are also likely to develop colic as a result of excessive fermentation. Lastly, an emotionally unstable environment may contribute to colic symptoms in an infant.

Why is colic a concern?

Colic may become a concern due to the following reasons:

Babies with colic usually grow and gain weight appropriately, despite being fussy or irritable, being gassy, and losing sleep.

How is colic diagnosed or evaluated?

A physician will examine your baby and obtain a medical history. Questions might be asked about how long and how often your child cries, if you have noticed anything that seems to trigger the crying, and what comfort measures are effective, if any. Blood tests and x-rays or other imaging tests may be done to determine if there are other problems present.

When should we contact a physician?

Before assuming your child has colic, you should look for other signs of illness. These may include, but are not limited to, the following:

Call your child's physician if you note any of these symptoms, or if your baby is crying excessively. Your child's physician will examine your child to make sure other problems are not present that might be causing colic-like symptoms.

Dealing with colic:

Learning how to interpret your baby's cry can be helpful in dealing with colic. It does take some time for parents and babies to become accustomed to each other. Remember, babies will cry for a certain length of time every day under normal circumstances.

Other suggestions include the following:

What is the long-term outlook for a child with colic?

The symptoms of colic usually resolve by the time a baby is about 4 months of age. Consult your child's physician for more information.

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