Hopefully, the start of an improvement
In a nutshell: I seem to have found a remedy (although not necessarily a cure) for my baby's colic! I caution against anyone else attempting this, especially with a newborn. Sadly, this only worked because I had spent weeks learning my baby's signals.
Kara was considered a Low Gestational Weight baby, so when her weight had dropped just over 10% by the third day of her life, the Lactation Consultant we met with was alarmed. It hadn't occurred to either Matt or I that the advice we received from her at that, and the following visit, was skewed towards getting Kara's weight back up to — and over — her birth weight as quickly as possible. It seems that the metric for determining how healthy one's baby is is based almost entirely by how quickly she gains weight. I also now realize that a breastfeeding consultant, who has met with a baby who develops a dangerously low weight, probably doesn't get too great a reputation.
When Kara went from being a very calm and contented newborn to an almost-newborn, prone to consistent, inconsolable crying fits, it didn't occur to us that this wasn't necessarily normal. Matt and I thought it was all just part of the territory of having a new baby in one's life. A pattern began to emerge, one in which the worst bout of crying tended to occur around 8pm each night, the culmination of a day's worth of progressively irritable behaviour. It wasn't until the 4th week of Kara's existence that we began to realize that what she was experiencing was a near-textbook case of colic.
Matt and I had long since linked her crying to gas, since she tended to be able to calm down following a bowel movement. Some quick browsing online seemed to indicate that imposing a feeding schedule upon a baby could alleviate the symptoms of colic, so I opted to start watching Kara like a hawk in the hour leading up to her usual fit. It seemed that the 8pm fit could be attributed to the need to feed, be changed, and be put to sleep all at once, while also needing to pass gas or a bowel movement. I started working on meeting each need as it arose, but was still puzzled by how to help with the problem of what we could only assume was gas. The result seemed to be an easier time for her, but one in which she was still clearly uncomfortable and unable to be soothed for at least some of the time.
Then, I stumbled upon this:
"One reason that the !Kung San spend so much time holding their babies is that they feed them almost continuously, approximately four times per hour, four minutes per feeding. Researchers speculate that this approach to feeding may be partly responsible for the reduced crying of the !Kung San infants."
I decided to let Kara — whom I'd been "listening" to as far as her diaper change and napping schedules were concerned — dictate when and how often to eat, too. I also decided, rather than to take an aggressive approach to feeding her (i.e., offering her more to eat after she had already decided to "break the latch"), that I would burp her after she had decided she'd had enough, then offer her more if she burped or was otherwise showing signs of hunger. I found that she usually wasn't interested in eating more — that she simply ended up going to sleep while I was patting her on the back. The result is that her mood drastically improved on the first day and she didn't exhibit colic-like symptoms at all during her usual time on the second day (she only did, briefly, just before a bowel movement in the early afternoon). Yesterday, however, the new strategy didn't work entirely — Kara was still experiencing colic-like behaviour for an hour from 10pm to 11pm.
Today is the fourth day after having adopted the new feeding strategy and while I can't claim that the results are definitive or fool-proof, I'd say that this small change has made a big difference in Kara's mood. She awakens happy and ready to play, feeds, often burps, then goes back to sleep. I'm hopeful that keeping this up will mean that her episodes are at least less severe.
Otherwise, it seems we have to concern ourselves with if Kara's now somehow going to be underfed by dictating when she's hungry. Matt and I have educated ourselves of the signs of an underfed baby and are keeping an eye out, but so far things are looking good.