by Winnie Yu Sherer
Dr. Mary Ann LoFrumento (as medical advisor)

All new parents expect their babies to cry, some perhaps more than others. But when unrelenting wails of a newborn become a nightly occurrence, your baby may be suffering from colic.

Colic is a frustrating and distressing condition that describes a pattern of excessive crying for no apparent reason. The condition is quite common and affects up to 10 percent of all babies. Colic typically starts a few weeks after birth, peaks at about six weeks of age, then gradually improves somewhere between the third and fifth month.

Dealing with colic can be extremely difficult, especially for first-time parents who can’t calm their baby’s screams and are at a loss as to what to do. To make matter worse, most new parents are already exhausted and sleep deprived. The combination makes for a frustrating experience. The mom’s diet (if she’s nursing) and the way you feed a child might make a difference, but is no guarantee of relief from the nightly cries.

What it Looks Like

Many babies go through fussy spells in the late afternoon and early evening, which is why pediatricians are often reluctant to label these bouts of crying colic.

True colic starts between the second and fourth weeks after birth. Colicky babies may cry around the clock, but worsen in the early evening. The crying is inconsolable and often accompanied by the baby extending or pulling up his legs. During the crying jab, the baby may pass gas and their stomachs may be enlarged or distended by gas. Fortunately, the crying does dissipate eventually.

What to Eat

Consider giving your baby a teaspoon or two of chamomile tea, a remedy that may help calm you baby’s cries. If you do, make sure the tea you buy contains the purest form of chamomile possible. Moms who are nursing might also want to consider drinking chamomile tea, which can soothe their jangled nerves as well.

If your baby is using formula, consider switching to a different formula. A study in the journal Pediatrics found that babies who ate a hypoallergenic infant formula made with whey hydrolysate, a type of protein, decreased the amount of daily crying in colicky infants by 63 minutes.

What Not to Eat

If you’re nursing, consider cutting out foods that might promote gas, such as beans, broccoli, and cabbage. Consider also eliminating spicy foods, caffeine, and high-fiber foods, all which can irritate your baby.

Nursing moms might also want to consider giving up cow’s milk. One older study looked 66 moms of breastfed infants who were put on a diet free of cow’s milk. The study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, found that the colic disappeared in 35 infants, but reappeared in 23 of the infants when cow’s milk was reintroduced.

Other food allergens may be involved, too. A separate study in the same journal looked at the effects of a maternal diet low in food allergens. Moms in that study eliminated highly allergenic foods such as cow’s milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and fish. Babies whose moms ate the low-allergen diet experienced a reduction in the duration of their crying spells.

Supplements for Colic

There are no supplements recommended for the colicky infant or a nursing mom.

Stay-Healthy Strategies

  • Feed your baby whenever she’s hungry. Babies are generally less fussy on a full tummy.
  • Make sure to take care of yourself. Colic can be exasperating. Enlist help from family and friends who can provide you with a brief reprieve.
  • Soothe her in other ways. Try swaddling her tightly in a blanket. Sing to her. Walk her around the room to soft music. Consider massaging your baby.
  • Make some noise – white noise. The hum of a dryer or a vacuum cleaner can help settle some colicky infants. But be careful where you put the baby if you use a dryer. Never place the baby on top of a dryer, only beside it.