Colic has long been defined by the rule of three: crying — frequently a very agitated cry, often accompanied by the baby stiffening his legs, making fists, or passing gas — for more than three hours a day, three days a week, for three straight weeks in an otherwise healthy, well-fed baby.
But some, like Barry Lesser, who founded the Infant Behavior, Cry and Sleep Cilnic—also known as the Colic Clinic — at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School and Woman and Infants Hospital, expand that understanding to include any excessive, intense crying that affects the child’s development or the parents’ well-being or feelings toward their baby.
It’s typically diagnosed only by exclusion — that is, after a doctor has ruled out anything else that might be at play. Colic generally peaks at about six weeks, and usually resolves by three to six months of age, though, rarely, it can last longer.
One of the most wrenching things about colic is how poorly understood it is, and to this day, what causes colic remains a mystery. Current thinking includes myriad potential causes: an very sensitive temperament, an underdeveloped nervous system, a baby who is easily over-stimulated, irritation caused by the mother’s diet in breastfed babies or certain proteins in formula-fed babies, overfeeding, gastrointestinal immaturity or inflammation.
And with so many potential causes, potential solutions run the gamut too.