Colic is when a baby who appears healthy in every other way cries or screams frequently without any discernible reason. Like the term “headache,” “colic” is a general term that describes a symptom — crying– but the term is not a diagnosis.
The standard most health care providers use is the “Rule of Threes” — if a baby cries more than three days a week, for more than three hours, for more than three weeks in a month, the or she is officially considered “colicky.” There is currently no commonly accepted explanation for colic. The excessive crying typically appears within the first two weeks of life and almost always disappears before the baby is three to four months old, and most often an explanation is never found.
Note that it’s normal for your baby’s crying jags to gradually ramp up starting from birth– while three-week-olds cry an average of 1.7 hours per day, 6-week-olds cry 2.2 hours per day. The “six week crying peak” seems to coincide with the baby transitioning to the 60-120-minute sleep cycles of the third trimester and newborn stages to a day/night sleep cycle: as your baby gets over the six-week hump s/he will probably also start to sleep in longer overnight stretches. You may notice the baby’s crying is at its worst in the late afternoon, which unfortunately is also when most parents also have a before-dinner blood-sugar dip.
If your baby is a heavy crier, the strain can be immense. It’s true that situation is temporary and “this too shall pass,” but hours, days and weeks of crying is tough, tough, tough on the toughest of parents. Our advice: if you’ve done everything you can to make sure the baby is fed, dry, not running a high fever or being poked by something pointy, and your best efforts at soothing are just not working, the best thing for all involved is to just put the baby down somewhere safe, like the crib, and take at least 20 minutes to have something to eat and drink, relax your muscles and calm down. If you’re really at your wit’s end and especially if you feel like you might hurt the baby (or yourself) call 1-800-4-A-CHILD a confidential 24-hour hotline staffed by some genuinely kind, helpful and experienced therapists who’ll be able to give you strategies to cope with these trying times and point you towards support resources in your area.
It’s also possible that your baby has a physical issue causing the crying, such as an illness, injury, erupting tooth or condition such as reflux. To help your pediatrician, write down details about baby’s fits for a day or two– what time they start, how long they last, how many total hours a day the crying goes on, and if the baby has any other symptoms. If the baby’s crying seems unusually shrill, shrieky or high pitched, take a short video to show the doctor, too.