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The Crying Game

Relieving the discomfort

What soothes one infant may not help another. In fact, you may have to combine a few of these time-tested strategies to find what works for your baby.

PICK HIM UP "You can't spoil a baby with too much cuddling," says Dr. Squires. In fact, research shows that infants who are held a lot now tend to cry less later on in their childhood.

Most babies like to be held close, in a grown-up's arms or in a body carrier, or swaddled firmly in a tight blanket. But some parents swear by the following colic hold: Lay your baby belly-down along the length of your forearm (with one leg on either side of your arm), and cup his chin in your hand to support his head. Or lay him on his tummy across your lap and gently rub his back; the gentle pressure on his abdomen will help relieve intestinal gas, a suspected source of discomfort.

Jim DeSimone, of Cranford, NJ, experimented with a number of holds until he found one that worked for his baby: "I hold Isabella in the crook of my elbow, the way a quarterback holds a football, with her back to me, and her head and shoulders draped over my forearm."

GET MOVING Some babies are soothed by rhythmic motions, such as a car ride. "If yours insists on being rocked for hours at a time, carry her in a front pack or sling to free up your hands," says Dr. Weissbluth. "Or put her in a baby swing or a bouncy seat."

HUM A LULLABY Infants react to sound's volume and tone, so play or sing a soft tune. Many are also calmed by "white noise," the constant low sound of a dishwasher or a vacuum cleaner. Another trick: dimming the lights. Babies who are overstimulated are more likely to calm down in a dark room.

WATCH YOUR DIET Some pediatricians recommend that you cut down on gassy foods (such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) if you nurse, since they could irritate a baby's stomach and aggravate her colic. Other possible infant-tummy irritants: caffeinated beverages, chocolate, and dairy products.

If your baby is bottle-fed, it might help to switch his formula. Some infants are intolerant of cow's milk formula, for example, and feel better when they're given a soy-based one. Bottle-fed infants may get stomach pains from swallowing too much air when they drink; it may help to try bottles designed to minimize air intake during feedings.

Extra nursing or bottle-feeding can quiet and comfort a crying baby, as can letting him suck his thumb or a pacifier.

STICK TO A ROUTINE "Colicky babies are already overstimulated," says Keefe. "Some may get even more upset if you switch soothing techniques too quickly." She advises that you develop a routine of five tactics that usually comfort your baby; do each tactic for at least five minutes when he cries.

GO HERBAL Some parents rely on diluted (and lukewarm) tea made with chamomile to help them get through the night. "Nursing moms may drink it themselves or give it directly to their baby," says Christopher Hobbs, author of Herbal Remedies for Dummies. It's still important to talk to a pediatrician before trying any herbal concoction; some of them may contain ingredients that are dangerous for infants and older babies.

CONSIDER MEDICATION Over-the-counter anti-gas remedies that contain simethicone (such as Infants' Mylicon drops) may help relieve gas in some infants and are safe to use. But many pediatricians are wary of prescribing stronger medications to babies because of the potential side effects and the risk of an overdose, according to George Cohen, M.D., a pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center, in Washington, DC. Muscle relaxants, such as Levsin, for example, are used on occasion, but may cause dry mouth. In rare in-stances, a mild sedative, such as chloral hydrate, may be prescribed.

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK Spending too much time trying to comfort a crying baby can spark feelings of hostility and resentment, which is why it's so important to take some time out for yourself. Take a quick break at least once a day, and try a longer one  -- to a movie or out to dinner with a friend  -- at least once a week.

If you ever feel like you may lose control or harm your baby, leave him in a safe place (like his crib) and walk away from him until you calm down. You might want to call the pediatrician or a local parents' support group.