By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

When preparing to become a dad, it’s important to realize that all babies fuss from time to time, and many have a short fussy period every single day, usually around the time when you’re the busiest and have the least patience for it. Although all screaming seems pretty much the same to you, fussiness can be caused by one end or the other of the gastrointestinal tract.

Basics of colic for dads

Colic can send a parent around the bend in no time at all. It’s defined by the Mayo Clinic as “three hours of crying a day at least three days a week for three weeks or more in a well-fed, healthy baby.”

Colic affects around 40 percent of infants and generally starts between three and six weeks of age and ends by three months of age. They may seem like the longest three months of your life.

No one really knows what causes colic, but colicky babies often pull their legs up to their stomach and act as if they have a belly ache, so perhaps they do. Breast-fed and bottle-fed babies both get colic, and changing the formula rarely helps. Things that help calm a colicky baby include:

  • Car rides: The motion of the car calms down many colicky babies. With the price of gas, this can be an expensive solution, but you’ll try anything after the first two hours.

  • Decreased stimulation: Some babies can’t handle any handling or stimulation when they’re colicky and do better in a quiet, dark room.

  • Exercise balls: Some babies love lying on an exercise ball, with you holding them in position. These big balls can do double-duty in pregnancy and labor, when moms-to-be can squat on them or lean over them.

  • Position changes: Some babies like pressure on their abdomen, so letting her dangle over your arm while you walk around may work. Putting her over your knee, face down, and patting her back may work, too.

    [Credit: Illustration by Kathryn Born, MA]

    Credit: Illustration by Kathryn Born, MA
  • Vibration: Vibrating chairs or swings calm some colicky babies. If you don’t have either of these, you can do what many a desperate parent has tried: putting the infant seat on the dryer and turning it on. Whether it’s the motion or the noise, something about it calms some babies.

    Make sure to remain next to the baby to make sure she doesn’t fall off of the dryer, and always attach the safety belt, even if she’s sitting on the floor in the chair.

Basics of baby gas for dads

Babies often need help to get gas out of their stomachs after they eat. Some babies burp it up spontaneously, but others need to be patted between the shoulder blades for a few minutes to get the gas out.

If the baby falls asleep at the end of a feeding without burping, don’t put him down without getting a burp up. He’ll give you just enough time to fall asleep or get involved with something before he wakes up with that piercing cry that means a bubble is stuck. Take a few extra minutes and get him to burp; you’ll be glad you did.

Basics of baby refluxes for Dads

Although many babies spit up after feedings, gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) is a whole different entity. Gastrointestinal reflux (GER — not the same thing as GERD), or normal spitting, occurs in more than half of all babies, but it’s usually worse between the ages of 1 and 4 months and disappears by 6 to 12 months.

Keeping the baby in an upright position for half an hour or so after feedings helps reduce GER, and then keeping her at a 30-degree angle for sleep may help. Some parents elevate one end of the crib to keep the baby’s head higher than her feet.

Despite what you may be told, studies show that thickening the formula with cereal doesn’t help, and it may worsen respiratory problems in children with GERD.

GER is annoying and potentially ruinous to your clothing and the baby’s, but GERD is a more serious problem. Babies with GERD fail to gain weight, may have respiratory difficulties from milk aspiration, and may have feeding aversion, which is understandable because food so often brings them discomfort.

Breast-fed babies are less likely to develop GER or GERD because breast milk digests more easily and empties out of the stomach twice as fast as formula. Medications to reduce stomach acid or to keep stomach acid from entering the esophagus may be prescribed to treat GERD.