For Crying Out Loud: coping with colic & reflux*

*This Article First Appeared in the May issue of San Diego Family Magazine

Does your baby cry a lot?  Maybe you’ve heard that it’s colic but what exactly is colic?

Colic Defined:

Colic is a little understood problem that torments up to 28% of infants and their parents.   In 1954, Morris Wessel a pediatrician at Yale, came up with the Rule of Three to define Colic as crying for more than 3 hours a day at least 3 days a week for at least 3 weeks in a row.

Sometimes is seems that nothing can be done to stop the crying and parents can be left feeling as helpless as their infants.  The piercing cry of a baby with colic is a disturbing sound.  In fact, a colicky babies’ cry has been studied and found to be a more disturbing cry that that of a baby without colic.  A study in Child Development finds that colicky infants produced cries at frequencies of more than twenty one hundred hertx or nearly 25% greater frequency than non colicky babies.1 That is a significantly more distressing cry.

The ongoing sound of an inconsolable crying baby is challenging for parents to endure.  According to an article in the New Yorker, “The sound of a crying baby is just about the most disturbing, demanding, shattering noise we can hear.  The United States military has reportedly used the sound of wailing infants as an instrument of psychological stress, piping recordings…into the cells of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”

Is it Colic or is it Reflux:

It seems there are trends in diagnosis.  A generation ago babies who cried frequently where labeled as having colic.  Today, many babies with these colic symptoms are diagnosed with reflux.  Yet what many parents don’t know is there is often a correlation between colic, reflux and food intolerance.

The Cure:

Author of Baby Matters, Linda Palmer, says that “with true diligence efforts to find and avoid any irritating foods colic symptoms can be cured at a 90% success rate.”  Pediatric medical professionals such as Dr. Bob Sears recommend first removing the most common allergens which are: dairy, eggs and nuts.  If a baby is formula fed a switch to hydrolyzed hypoallergenic formula is recommended because 60% of babies with dairy allergies will also be sensitive to soy.  However, even the hypoallergenic formulas often contain corn which is a common allergen.  Breastfeeding or finding donated allergy-free breast milk is usually the best option. Labels must be read with care and all foods containing casein, whey, butter or cream, cheese, even “non-dairy” items are lactose-free yet still full of milk protein and must be avoided.  Mother’s also need to be aware that results of an elimination diet are not immediate and that it can take up to two weeks for an elimination diet to work.

In addition, clinical trials indicate that probiotics can relieve symptoms of colic and reflux.  One recent study found that probiotics decreased colicky crying by a whopping seventy-five percent!2 Non dairy probiotics are also available most probiotics come in powder form that can be added to mom’s diet and to baby’s bottles of expressed breast milk.

Alternative Treatments:

Beyond dietary changes there are other alternatives that seem to ease colic.  A product developed by Nanette Meneses  a North County mom who had a colicky daughter is gaining a growing audience of support.  This product is called Happi Tummi and consists of a waistband and herbal pouch that is heated to release healing properties which provide almost immediate relief of most common stomach ailments.

Hold Me Tender:

Parenting style also impacts a baby’s colic. Regular close contact, sometimes called attachment style parenting, will comfort a baby and reduce crying.  Linda Palmer a local attachment parenting expert shares that, “Babies are designed to be next to their parents most of the time, both day and night.” She recommends co-sleeping at night and carrying a baby in a sling by day.  In addition to a sling, bouncing a baby while sitting on an exercise ball mimics the up and down motion babies feel in the womb and can sooth even the fussiest of babies.  This type of sensory input is well demonstrated by Pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp who practices in LA in his video The happiest baby on the block.

The Cost of Colic:

New trends in the treatment of colic and reflux include looking at the whole family system.  At the colic clinic at Brown Center for the Study of Children at Risk they have found that it’s critical to examine not only how chronic crying affects the baby but how it impacts the parent-child relationship.

Parents can be filled with self doubt and guilt about their basic abilities to nurture and provide comfort for the baby.  It can be especially difficult for parents to stop themselves from wondering if they are doing something wrong when they have friends or family that brag about other “easy” babies.

Research indicates that parents of difficult to sooth babies are at risk for depression.   Feeling overwhelmed from caring for a fussy baby coupled with plaguing self consciousness about taking a crying baby out in public, results in parents of colicky babies becoming isolated.  Unfortunately, without the right resources parents can tend to withdraw at the very times when they need the most support.  There are resources in the medical, mental health and online parenting community for coping with difficult to sooth babies.  Because babies are exquisitely wired to pick up on their primary caretakers feelings, your stress becomes their stress and stress makes symptoms worse.  Therefore, if you have a high needs baby it’s essential that you get the support you need and remember to keep breathing!

Tyia Grange Isaacson, LCSW is the mother of two formerly colicky and reflux babies and the founder of Baby Maven a practice specialized in helping parents.


  1. Zeskind PSBarr RG.Acoustic characteristics of naturally occurring cries of infants with “colic”Child Development 1997;68(3):394-403.

2.       Francesco Savino, MD, Emanuela Pelle, MD,Elisabetta Palumeri, MD, Roberto Oggero, MD and Roberto Miniero, MD Lactobacillus reuteri (American Type Culture Collection Strain 55730) Versus Simethicone in the Treatment of Infantile Colic: A Prospective Randomized Study

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