When the baby is born, that first cry is music to your ears. It signals the arrival of a precious, healthy baby.
But after that first magical moment, the baby's cry isn't the sound you want to hear. You do all that you can to avoid it, anticipating the baby's every need and doing anything to keep them feeling safe and secure.
But cries happen. It's how the baby communicates with you, and it's impossible to avoid every one. Even worse, sometimes it's impossible to stop.
Up to 40 percent of babies develop colic, an almost unexplainable ailment that starts a few weeks after birth and lasts for several months. The cry of a colicky baby is like a siren for moms and dads. The piercing sound goes straight to your heart. And it lasts for hours for days on end.
For some parents, getting a colic diagnosis is a sigh of relief, not because it helps solve the issue — after all, there isn't too much you can do — but because it lets you know that you aren't failing your baby.
You may not be able to stop the crying, but you can be there for your baby through the worst of it.
Here are the signs that you have a colicky baby — and what you can do about it.
15 Cry, Cry, Baby
All babies cry. It's how they communicate. But moms can usually calm down their babies pretty quickly.
Your baby might be tired or hungry. Maybe he or she needs a diaper change or just a little break from the excitement. Something momentarily upsets your baby, and she lets you know about it. But once you address the issue, things get quiet again.
If you can't forget out what the bawling is about, then your baby might have colic. If you try everything, from a new diaper to your baby's favorite pacifier or blanket, and it doesn't work, it is probably colic. If your baby can't calm down enough to sleep or to eat, then it's probably colic. If your baby cries for three hours or more with no stopping, then colic is the likely culprit.
Symptom No. 1 is crying — and we mean it. A colicky baby cries like you never imagined. Good luck to the mama of a colicky baby.
14 Wailing Weeks
Colic doesn't start as soon as your baby is born. It takes a few weeks to know if your baby's crying is a real issue or just something to be expected.
Colic kicks in when a baby is two to three weeks old, although for preemies, it usually happens about two or three weeks after the baby's due date, not birth date. It's probably just about the time that you are getting into the swing of things and feel like you've got a handle on this parenthood thing. That's about the time your baby will show you that there will be unexpected obstacles on the way.
The crying gets worse for about a month, peaking at six weeks old. And it usually ends at the three or four month mark. For up to 90 percent of colicky babies, they are better by four months.
All that crying can make months seem like forever, but it won't be so long in the end. Hang in there.
13 It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere
For most colicky babies, the mornings are a treat. Lunchtime is a breeze. But just about the time when a new mother thinks the day is winding down, her poor baby is just beginning. That's when the crying begins.
Some babies have different timing, but for the majority of newborns with colic, the three-hour screaming fits usually begin in late afternoon/early evening, somewhere around 5 p.m. For working parents, that means that the baby can have a great day at daycare then spend all night crying at home. If Mom stays home and Dad spends the day at the office, it may mean that he doesn't get much time with your baby when she's happy.
It isn't the ideal point in time for parents, but if you and your partner work traditional hours, it helps to have both of you home. Take turns with the baby and do your best to enjoy your evening.
12 Screaming It Out
A newborn's cry can sound like a lot of things — like a cat mewling, like a whimper, like an unhappy goat. But for a baby with colic, a cry doesn't really sound like a cry; it sounds like a scream.
The pitch of a colic cry is somewhat distinct, and it isn't a sound you would like to hear. For a couple of weeks, you've been enchanted by the beautiful strains of your baby's cry. But now that he found his lungs and developed colic, his cry has a very different sound. It isn't the beg of a hunger cry or the whimper of a sad cry, the fed up sound of an exhausted cry or the anxious cry that signals a dirty diaper. Moms and dads describe it as piercing, never-ending wail.
Colicky babies don't calm down quickly, so it's a sound that will last for a while. It's heartbreaking to not be able to stop your baby from crying. The sound pierces right to your heart.
11 Feel It In The Gut
Stock up, moms. During your baby's colic periods, you are likely to have to change a few diapers. Keep the burp clothes close too because there could stuff coming out both ends.
One sure fire sign of colic is the tummy activity that occurs during a crying jag. It may come in the form of bowel movements or maybe through spit up or simply periods of gas in burps or toots. Sometimes the best thing that can happen to a baby is a burp, so don't fret the increase in digestive activity. It could make your baby feel much better.
All of the activity in the lungs can get the gastrointestinal system going too. It's normal, so don't worry about the poop or the puke. It happens a lot for a colicky baby and isn't necessarily a sign that your baby is sick. When your baby finally stops crying, you'll have time to clean up.
10 Tensing Up
While your baby is screaming, there are other signs that he or she is in distress, if colic is the diagnosis. Your baby will tense up.
During the throughs of colic, a baby will tense every muscle, drawing in the legs and feet, tightening his little fists into tiny balls, squinching up that little face. Even your baby's belly will seem to tighten, which will be no surprise considering the activity that we just mentioned will be going on.
Some babies open their eyes wide, although others squeeze them shut. They furrow their cute little brows and may even hold their breath for a short time. It's a tense, terrible time for your baby.
You may feel yourself getting tense yourself, and you might want to curl yourself into a ball and wail right on with him. Do what you can to relax so you can help your baby to calm down.
9 Red In The Face
There is no mistaking the color of a colicky baby. During their maddest moments, your baby will be very red in the face.
The cry — or scream — of a colicky baby can last a long time and really get the blood flowing to the face. If your baby holds his or her breath for a time, they might lose their color momentarily, but for the most part, the activity will result in a pretty distinctive crimson hue.
It may make you blue to think about your baby being in such a state, but the red face is simply a sign that the oxygen is flowing. Soon, you'll be green with envy of the moments when your little angel is sleeping or smiling. And you may feel a little yellow about getting through the next few hours, much less weeks.
But pretty soon, you'll realize that red isn't the worst color your baby could be. Be sure to watch to make sure she doesn't turn blue. Otherwise your baby is OK.
8 Settle The Stomach
Speaking of your baby's stomach, some doctors believe that colic is all about a baby's tummy troubles. Doctors still aren't sure about the cause, but the activity and the irritability seem to point to something in the stomach.
Some babies have problems with breaking down their food in their digestive system, so they have painful gas. They can't tell you, so they scream, and somehow that act of crying gets the gas going and helps move things along and gives them some relief.
Some doctors believe that colicky babies have an immature gastrointestinal system, so some of the first treatments they recommend will be to do everything possible to address it. Watch for warnings about your diet, exercises and more that could help settle your baby's tiny tummy.
For a colicky baby, the way to his heart might be through his stomach, so do your best to keep him happy.
7 Diet Dos And Don'ts
Moms and dads have a few options that could help their babies feel a little better. If you are bottle feeding, your doctor will probably recommend trying a different kind of formula until you find something that does the trick.
For moms who breastfeed, there may be things in their diet that are irritating the baby's stomach. You might try avoiding things that produce a lot of gas, like beans and broccoli. You may also want to try avoiding dairy or gluten to see if that helps not only with your tummy troubles but with your baby's. There are also a few over-the-counter remedies like Gripe Water that help.
There may be a lot of trial and error to figure it out. Diet journals may help you in determining the things that help or hurt. But in the end, a relief from colic and the endless screams will be worth it.
6 Try A New Position
Just when you think you can't rock and sing anymore — don't rock and sing anymore. In fact, one of the best things you can do to help your colicky baby is to try something different.
If you have been cradling your baby on his back, try setting him upright against your shoulder (pay attention to his neck and be sure to provide support, if needed). Give your baby a little tummy time. Try your baby swing or bouncer or go for a drive or get out the stroller for a long walk.
Let us note here that some of these positions are perfectly safe for your crying baby, but you should watch your little one and make sure that he or she doesn't spit up, in case it blocks their airway. Also, if your baby falls asleep on his or her tummy, flip them over to their back, which is a safer sleeping position.
5 A Little Exercise
Your colicky baby has plenty of activity going on to start the bowels going, but it may help shorten a crying period if you help your baby get things moving along before the crying begins.
Try bicycling your baby's legs. Make a game of it, and it might produce a dirty diaper and a smile. Switch directions every once in a while for variety. I also liked to add a rousing rendition of "Bicylcle Built for Two" to drown out the screams. Little baby reverse crunches (lifting up the legs toward the head and putting them back down) can also help. The more your baby moves, the better.
These exercises can help a baby's digestion, and they may produce a few burps or dirty diapers. That's a good thing, and it could ward off a future screaming session. It may save your baby some pain and you a lot of heartache.
4 Create A Calm Environment
Another possible explanation for colic is overstimulation. Some doctors say that the excitement of the day could be too much for your newborn, and it all catches up to them during the nightly crying jag.
So to soothe your baby, try to create a calming environment. Turn the lights down, and get away from excess noise, as much as you can at dinner time.
If you've had a lot of visitors during the day, this might be the time to kick them out or keep them to a minimum. But if you need some help, it may be good to have one or two people around for backup, such as your spouse and your mother.
A calming bath might help, but don't add soap with any new scents. That would just add to the overload at this point. If your baby has sensory overload, then do all you can to keep things at a minimum. Hopefully, your little one can relax and get to sleep.
3 Talk To Your Doctor
Whenever your baby is having trouble, it's always a good idea to talk to a pediatrician. There aren't a lot of medications that could help, but your doctor could have some tips about how best to take care of your baby.
Colic is often a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that your doctor will rule out other potential culprits.The crying could be pointing toward a real problem, and it is possible your doctor could figure out a tummy issue that could be solved through medication, therapy or even surgery. In the end, a trip to the doctor's office could save your baby from a lot of pain and save you from a lot of tears.
Your pediatrician can walk you through the exercises and positions that may be best for calming your baby. And the doctor is also going to talk to you about how you are coping, which leads us to our next point.
2 It Can Be Depressing
Knowing that your baby isn't happy can make a struggling new mom struggle even more. In fact, the excessive crying has been linked to an uptick in postpartum depression in moms, and it is also linked to shaken-baby syndrome if mom or dad has a hard time coping with the crying.
Colic can make a mom feel inadequate, and that is normal. But if you develop postpartum depression, it can make an unnerving situation even more precarious and place both you and your baby in a dangerous situation.
Your baby needs you right now, so be sure to get help if you need it. See your doctor about postpartum depression and rely on family and friends to give you a break from the crying. And don't be scared to try medication or counseling. Soon the crying will stop, and we hope that both you and the baby will feel better.
1 Future Forecast
We know that you hate to hear your baby cry. You may think that your baby is sad or mad or generally unhappy. But trust us, this will end.
In a few months, things will get better. In time, the colic will dissipate, and you will be left with the normal tears of dirty diapers, teething and temper tantrums.
Tears are going to be a part of your child's life for decades to come — from scrapped knees and hurt feelings to teenage tirades, broken hearts, wedding jitters and their own baby's birth.
Crying is a symptom of colic, but it's not a sign of a melancholy disposition. Research has proven that colicky babies turn into normal healthy kids and adults, and that is all that any parent wants for their baby.
So while you are soothing your crying baby, don't worry about the future. Both you and your baby will get through it.