One thing I've learned about parenting that is pretty much universal, once mom and dad think they've mastered this parenting thing, the kids change up the dance to keep their parents guessing. It's safe to say, don't get too comfortable in parenthood just yet, because the little ones have a surprise waiting just around the corner.
About seven weeks into our journey of parenting fraternal infant twins, we hit our groove. We’d mastered the feeding, the swaddle, heck we even had a diaper changing station carefully situated on each floor of our semi for convenience and stealth.
Then one evening at around 5:30, a time which we very quickly learned is known as “the witching hour” in parenting, my daughter started crying and wouldn’t stop. She wasn’t hungry, she didn’t seem gassy, and she was inconsolable until she calmed down suddenly when the clock struck ten.
This happened again the next night, and the night after that, and became a regular occurrence for three to four hours each night the next four months of our lives. We asked our healthcare practitioner about it, and it was clear there was nothing wrong with her, it was just a phase that would pass.
Occasionally we’d get a night or two off a week, and we’d think the colic, but we were wrong, that is until our daughter reached six months and the fog of colic slowly lifted.
Colic is frustrating, scary, and exhausting. Thankfully because of some friends, family, research, and a little luck we all made it through. In the four months, that seemed more like four years, we learned a number of tricks to cope with colic. Here are 15 effective ways to cope when a little one has colic.
15 Figure Out Whether Or Not It’s REALLY Colic
Infants cry. It’s how they let their parents know what’s wrong and that’s totally normal. They cry when they need to be fed, held, changed, put to bed. They cry in no real pattern during the day and night. Sometimes their cries are urgent or may even sound distressed, but they’re usually easily calmed through meeting their needs or regular soothing like being rocked, held or cuddled.
Colic cries are completely unprovoked and don’t correspond with normal infant needs. Colic crying is incredibly difficult to calm and can sound very painful. Colic cries peak in the evening and can start and stop very abruptly. Infantile colic is defined as crying episodes that last for three hours or more, for at least three days each week.
The cause of colic is not known, although some believe it’s caused by gastrointestinal issues. Colic has been reported in 10 to 40 percent of children, in the same rate as boys and girls, it is usually most commonly present at six weeks post-birth and generally goes away on its own by six months.
14 Get Moving
A soft motion might be a good way to calm baby. Try rocking baby, sitting in a glider or a rocking chair and letting the motion sooth their cries. Some babies will respond well to a baby swing, which can give parents and their arms a much needed break from three plus hours of lugging around a screaming child.
Another option is to put the crying little cutie into a sling or carrier so you can bounce them, walk them, dance with them, or attempt to do other things while they stretch their vocal chords. A carrier was one of the only ways I was able to pay attention to both children, and get things like dinner made in the worst of the throws of colic.
For some the key is to alternate the motion from a warm tight hug, to a slow rock, to a bounce or even a dance. Remember different moves will work better for different children, and on different days, so mix it up!
13 Make Some Noise!
This may seem counterproductive during a period of time when you probably feel like you can’t hear yourself think, but it’s true! Babies respond well to noise, even colicky ones, particularly sounds that remind them of being in the womb. Colic corresponds with a portion of the fourth trimester for a reason, babies are still trying to adapt to “life on the outside.”
White noise can remind baby of your heartbeat or the gentle noises they heard inside the womb. Putting baby in a carrier while you blow dry your hair (don’t let it get too hot near them), vacuum, or listening to the noises offered by your clothing dryer or dishwasher may help.
Our daughter sometimes responded well to turning the television onto a fuzzy channel while we slowly bounced her on our knees. There are many online soothing sounds you can put on, like the ones with rainfall or natural whale noises adults use in sleep machines that may also help calm a colicky baby.
12 Try Silence And Stillness
When all else fails, consider trying the opposite of out noising your screaming tyke. While some babies may be comforted by movement, white noises, and distraction, others may not calm down and need a break from all of the stimulus being provided around them.
Take a minute to think about how much new and overwhelming things go on around a newborn baby compared to their nine months in the womb. It’s a lot to take in, many of us would scream at this monumental change as adults. Some babies will respond better to sitting with them quietly in a dark and silent room.
Close the blinds, shut off the lights, and hold them nice and still to see if they are responding to this measure. Standing in a dark room may feel silly, but if it works, even for just one evening, consider it a win.
11 Try Massage
Some babies respond well to a massage during colic hours. Most recommend avoiding massage immediately before or after a meal. Try putting your pre-crawling babe on a towel and get out a small bowl of vegetable or baby oil. Begin with the legs as they are a little less sensitive than other parts of baby’s bod.
To massage the legs, put a little bit of oil on your hands and wrap them around one thigh, slowly and gently pulling down, almost like you are “milking the leg,” move to the other leg and then repeat. Next rotate the baby’s feet one at a time, slowly in each direction, switch and then repeat. Try using your thumbs to trace circles all over the bottom of baby’s feet.
For the toes, grab a hold of each toe between your thumb and pointer finger and very gently pull until your fingers slip off at the end. Repeat all of these exercises for the arms, hands and fingers. You can also massage baby’s back and tummy with small circles down their spine and along their tummy.
Just remember to follow baby’s lead, and if they are getting increasingly upset, it’s time to stop the massage.
10 Hit The Road
A change of scenery in the middle of hour two of colic is probably a good idea for everyone. New things to see, smell, and fresh air may be the perfect distraction that will lull baby to sleep. A walk in a stroller, sling, or a long drive and the rhythmic movement offered by car or stroller tires, or your own two feet might help settle them down.
Many anthropologists who have studied infant care have found one common observation that is consistent all over the world: babies who are carried or “worn” fuss less than those who aren’t.
Order groceries online and then pick them up with a drive with baby when you know they’ll be fussing, put gas in the car, drive to the bank machine, this way your time will feel a little more productive and a lot less frustrating. At the same time, if your baby has been out all day and colic sets in, it might be best to head home to familiar territory and a quieter space.
9 Try Carrying Baby In A Different Position
Most parents have “go to” positions when it comes to cradling their child, particularly if they have a favourite pose in your arms and lap during the non-crying hours. Colic is a good time to mix up these positions and try something new, and often, cause really what else are you doing other than listening to a screaming baby right now anyway?
Try an upright position, laying on their tummy, move them around to place the knees into the belly to help remove any excess gas. Dr. Sears suggests a move known as the neck nestle: this is where you snuggle the baby’s head into the space between the adults chin and chest as you sway back and forth. Try singing different songs to baby while you walk them.
I used to favor ones with my daughter’s name in them: I now know all of the words to "Good Golly Miss Molly", "Molly’s Lips", and "Ob La Di Ob La Da."
8 Swaddle Them
Swaddling can help a baby feel soothed and more in control with their environment around them. Some parents find that swaddling a baby just before their usual colic hours can help calm them before the screaming even starts. If you routinely swaddle before bedtime, the association with bedtime may even help a fussing baby fall asleep instead of scream.
Other benefits of swaddling include: reduced infant anxiety, preventing baby from scratching their own face, mimicking touch (when you need a break), keeping a baby sleeping on their back, and swaddling keeps infants in their preferred sleep position with their hands over their heart, and will help them self-soothe.
Some suggest only swaddling a baby until they are around two months old, or are able to roll over to make sure they don’t roll onto their belly and end up face down in their crib with a face full of mattress.
7 Give Them A Bath Or Some Heat
Adults relax at the end of a hard day with a warm bath – why should this soothing technique be any different for a baby? This may be the perfect thing to distract and relax baby, plus baby probably needs a bath anyway, so why not get two birds with one stone?
Some babies like the soothing feel of warm water from a handheld sink nozzle in their back, or the sound of the water filling up the tub. If it’s not bath night, consider a hot water bottle filled with warm water to press against baby’s tummy. Just make sure the hot water bottle is filled with lukewarm water and is wrapped in a towel.
To test the appropriate warmth of a bottle test a more sensitive area of your own skin, like the inside of your wrist as you would to test the temperature of a bottle of milk.
6 Try Their Favorite Things
Make like Oprah and gather all of your baby’s favorite things: now is the time to try absolutely all of them to see if they will help calm them down. Anything that can provide a moment or three of quiet will be your best friend right now, each moment of calm is a win, particularly when you round hour three, day four in a row of constant crying.
That soother they love, give it a shot, because for some infants sucking on a soother, your finger or their own is the ultimate in self-soothing calmness. Favourite rooms, blankets, toys and songs are another great weapon to employ in your stockpile reserve towards restoring peace and quiet.
Don’t be afraid to re-try items, rooms or techniques that didn’t work an hour, yesterday, or even ten minutes ago. A lot of the solution to colic is stick-to-it-iveness and a willingness to keep on trying.
5 Ease A Gassy Tummy
While gas doesn’t cause colic it can make it worse, particularly since some colicky babies will get gassy from swallowing air while they cry nonstop. Keeping baby in an upright position for feedings, particularly as their colicky hours approach, and practicing regular burping may help.
Others rely on anti-gas, pediatrician approved medicines to help with colic including Gripe Water or anti- gas (simethicone/mylicon) drops which are sold over-the-counter at most pharmacies. Another thing to try is to help work out any gas by gently massaging baby’s belly or pumping their legs like they’re riding a mini imaginary bike while lying on their back.
Others find it helps to bring the baby back to the bath, with the warm water helping to ease gas pain.
4 Try Probiotics
Some studies have revealed that infants who have colic have different bacteria in their gut compared to babies who do not suffer from colic. Although it’s too early to determine for sure since there hasn’t been ample testing to confirm, some pediatricians recommend giving a baby suffering from colic probiotics to help reduce their symptoms.
Parents should connect with their healthcare provider to get their recommendations surrounding probiotics as a solution and recommended doses for their baby based on their age before trying to medicate themselves at home.
It can be tempting to try anything when you see your child in pain so routinely, but connect with your doctor first to ensure you are making an informed decision for your child, plus they may even have some samples available to try out at no cost. I personally saw a direct reduction in colic once we introduced yogurt into my daughter’s diet at around five months, but again it is unsafe to introduce solid food to a child before they are ready.
3 Consider Food Allergies
This isn’t necessarily related to colic, but is worth ruling out if a child has been suffering (and his parents as well) for more substantial periods of time. Stomach issues can imitate colic. Look and see if there is any connection between what might be in the breast milk and particularly rough colic evenings.
Baby may also be allergic to milk protein like what is found in some formulas. If you make a connection to specific foods and colic, ask your healthcare provider before eliminating specific foods (like all dairy products) for a number of weeks (this is about how long it takes for milk protein to leave mom’s milk) to see if it reduces the crying bouts.
Dairy isn’t the only food that can cause issues, keep track of your intake of all foods paying particular attention to caffeine, eggs, nuts, cabbage, and onions and try taking a couple of days off from possible irritating foods.
2 Stay Calm And Remember It’s No One's Fault
Constant crying is hard to take. It's emotionally draining and upsetting, and that’s okay to admit. If you find yourself getting overly emotional and angry about the baby crying, take a pause to leave baby in a safe place (like their crib) and walk away, even if it’s just for a few minutes to collect yourself.
Never let yourself become so angry that you shake the child, as this can cause brain damage and can even kill an infant. Shaken baby syndrome is child abuse. If ever a parent feels like they are at the point where they might hurt their child, they should consult with their doctor right away to get help before anyone gets hurt.
Remember colic is no one’s fault, it is nothing you or the baby caused to happen, and as hard as it is to imagine at the time, this too will pass. Eventually one day you’ll look back on it as just another growing pain you and your baby faced together.
1 Make The Time Less Stressful
Many parents try to find ways to make colic time less stressful. Sometimes they’ll schedule shifts with the crying baby in order to give each other a break. Other times they will hire a sitter, or get a friend or family member to come over and hold baby for just an hour or two so they can get away from the crying, even if it’s just for a short period of time.
Others find it’s a good time to rock baby while catching up on their favorite podcasts, or while listening to music on their headphones. Find ways to make the time a little more enjoyable, reward your patience following an evening of crying with a cup of green tea or glass of wine once baby has finally settled down, every now and then.
Some developmental specialists believe that intense or difficult babies, like those with colic, likely have a high achieving temperament which may drive them towards success throughout childhood and into adulthood, so take note, and for now simply keep calm and carry on.