Q I think our 2-month-old son might have colic. He cries hysterically every evening for at least an hour - just as I'm starting dinner. I'm at the end of my rope! Is this colic?
A The term "colic" is used to describe unexplained, inconsolable crying that follows the rule of 3s: The bouts last three hours per day, three days per week, and continue for at least three weeks. Colic also begins within the first three weeks of life and seldom lasts longer than three months. It occurs in an otherwise healthy, thriving baby.
But describing colic isn't the same as treating it - or even understanding it. In truth, colic is often a five-letter word meaning "I don't know why my baby is crying." In my experience, there are two common - and often hidden - causes of colic. The first is an allergy - either to formula, or, if you're breastfeeding, your son may be sensitive to something in your diet, possibly dairy products. In this case, eliminating the food(s) causing or worsening your baby's pain, or trying other formulas, will help solve this problem.
Another cause is gastroesophageal reflux (GER), in which irritating stomach acids regurgitate back into an infant's esophagus, causing pain similar to what we know as heartburn. A baby suffering from GER seems to be in pain day and night (unlike your son). But if you and your child's pediatrician suspect GER is to blame for his inconsolable crying, you may want to try giving your baby smaller, more frequent feedings, and keeping him upright and calm for at least half an hour after he eats. If these simple measures don't lessen the reflux and, in turn, the crying, your pediatrician may treat your baby with a medication that decreases acid production and increases the emptying of foods from the stomach. Most infants outgrow food allergies and GER sometime toward the end of the first year.
Because your baby seems to have colic only in the evenings, he may have what's called "evening colic" simply because he's very tired at the end of the day. A baby who hurts every evening gradually comes to expect pain instead of pleasure. You can change this by planning a pleasant end-of-the-day ritual: A late afternoon nap for you and Baby will oftentimes relax your son. It'll also recharge your ability to cope with the crying. Other suggestions: following the nap with a massage for your son and wearing him next to you in a baby sling while walking around the neighborhood. This soothing combination conditions him to expect that the late afternoon and early evening will be pleasant and calming.
The best news of all is that colic does end - eventually. Most of the causes subside by the time infants turn 6 months of age because their digestive systems are more mature, and because they spend more of their day in an upright position, which keeps foods from regurgitating as easily. They're also able to do more to occupy themselves. A baby who can sit up and crawl is likelier to find ways to soothe himself and will be more interested in exploring his world and playing.