When your baby is crying, appears to be in pain and you're utterly exhausted, relief for both of you can seem like a pipe dream. Knowing what causes the symptoms of colic and what you can do to help your baby (and yourself) will help you get through this colicky phase.

Nothing is more heartbreaking than listening to your baby cry for hours on end -- and you're left feeling helpless.

This is reality for parents in the throes of colic. Feelings of exhaustion, frustration, guilt and resentment can quickly mount. That's why it's important for parents to understand colic, realize there's nothing wrong with neither their baby nor themselves, and truly believe that although heartbreaking, there is an end to this colicky phase.

Why colic?

The onset of colic starts between 2-4 weeks of age and tapers off by 3-4 months. In fact, 80-90 percent of babies who suffer from colic will outgrow it by 4 months old.

The symptoms of colic are thought to be brought on by babies' immature nervous and digestive systems. I often counsel parents to think of the first 3-4 months of their baby's life as a fourth trimester, so to speak. Babies with colic would prefer to spend these first few months back inside the womb, where warmth, snugness and a gentle hum prevail.

They are truly sensitive little souls who need more time adjusting to the outside world.

Still, it's important to rule out any medical causes such as reflux. A baby with significant reflux will cry and spit up frequently. Once recognized and treated, crying and spit up may decrease dramatically.

Help for babies

Breastfeeding moms can start by eliminating dairy and other food triggers such as caffeine, wheat, soy and eggs. Likewise, formula-fed babies may improve after switching to a hypoallergenic formula such as Nutramigen.

Remedies such as gripe water and mylicon drops aimed at reducing gas in your baby may or may not be helpful. Some parents report modest relief with these treatments, while others don't.

Probiotics have shown promise in recent years at reducing crying associated with colic.

If breastfeeding, try a prolonged emptying of one breast per feeding.

Soothing techniques

While babies with colic are typically hard to console, many will respond to some variation of swaddling, rocking, sucking, white noise and/or gentle tummy massages. Try different soothing techniques to see what works for your baby. Some may prefer the vibration of a bouncy, while others prefer a quiet, dark room snug in a swaddle.

Help for you

Take a break. Ask for help. Get out for some fresh air. If tension is mounting, put your baby down in a safe place and regroup. Find other moms who have dealt with colic. It helps to know you're not alone.

Dr. Mom's bottom line

There's light at the end of this colic tunnel. You're a good parent. Your baby is a good baby. Soon, those intense crying jags will be replaced by delicious smiles and heart melting giggles.

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