Ask a doctor about colic, and you'll hear the classic definition - a healthy infant crying for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, for more than three weeks.
But ask a parent the same thing, and you'll hear words like "horrible" and "overwhelming."
That's how Stephanie Brown of Powell describes her son Kyle's colic.
"He had to be swaddled or held all day long, and then he cried from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m.," she remembered. "I was mad at the baby, myself, my husband, and my doctor because nobody could help me."
According to Dr. Nicole Caldwell, pediatrician at Nationwide Children's Hospital, the Browns' experience is typical.
"Colic is an abnormal pattern of crying that starts when the baby is about two weeks old, peaks at six weeks, and resolves at three months," Caldwell said. "It's usually at its worst in the evenings."
Caldwell explained that colic is a neuro-developmental issue.
"Colicky babies can't soothe themselves and thus become over stimulated," she said, adding that crying is their way of blocking out stimuli, not an expression of pain or gastric distress, as was believed in the past.
The constant crying is stressful for families. Parents may have negative thoughts about their baby or blame themselves for the crying, which in turn creates feelings of guilt and shame.
"I just remember feeling helpless and angry all the time," recalled Brown.
Caldwell assures parents that colic is normal - one in five babies goes through it - and that it is not permanent.
"Parents need to understand that they aren't doing anything wrong," she said. "And that it will go away."
Brown and Caldwell have the same advice for parents of colicky babies - get a copy of "The Happiest Baby on the Block" by Dr. Harvey Karp.
"The dynamics of our house changed as soon as I read the book," said Brown. "Such a sense of calm came over our family. Suddenly I wasn't angry with Kyle anymore."
In the book Karp explains how to use what he calls the Five S's to calm colicky babies: swaddling, side position, shushing, sucking and swinging.
"Neuro-developmentally the book makes sense," said Caldwell. "By recreating the womb environment, babies are able to turn off their startle reflex and soothe themselves."
Caldwell is quick to reassure parents that there are no long-term effects of colic. The Browns can attest to that. Today Kyle Brown is a giggly, mischievous 5-year-old with a grin that will melt your heart.
Tips for Dealing with Colic
- To help your baby calm himself: Read "The Happiest Baby on the Block," then experiment to find out which combination of Dr. Karp's techniques works for your baby.
- To help you keep your sanity: Understand that colic is normal and will go away. Know that you are not doing anything wrong and your baby is not in pain. Give yourself time outs and ask for help when you need it.
- See your pediatrician to rule out any physical issues that could be causing your baby's fussiness.