As a new parent, there is nothing more distressing than trying to soothe an inconsolable baby. In your sleep deprived state, it’s hard to know what’s normal and when it’s time to be concerned.
The average newborn baby cries for one and a half hours each day. By the age of six weeks, your baby may be crying for three hours a day. As long as baby has breaks between crying spells, and is otherwise healthy, this is simply par for the course for newborns.
Part of the reason for this is the fact that you are learning to decipher your baby’s needs, and he or she is adjusting to the sensory overload that all babies experience after birth.
As you begin to get some sort of routine in place, and baby adjusts to life on the outside, you will probably notice that your baby is fussing less and less. As baby gets older, he or she learns new ways to communicate with the world around him or her.
For fifteen to twenty five percent of all babies, crying goes beyond normal crying spells to hours long crying marathons known as colic.
7 What Is Colic?
Colic is defined by three key elements. The first is inconsolable crying spells that last for more than three hours a day, in an otherwise healthy baby. Second, the crying spells have to occur at least three days a week. Third, this pattern remains consistent for three weeks or more, and generally resolves itself by the time baby is three or four months old.
Because other conditions can mimic the symptoms of colic, it is important for you to contact your health care provider to discuss baby’s condition.
Some of the conditions that display similar symptoms to colic are:
- injuries, such as broken bones
- acid reflux, or digestive issues
- irregular heartbeat
- eye issues
- inflammation or pressure in the brain
What Causes Colic?
Some health care providers feel that colic is simply baby’s way of adjusting to life outside the womb. Other research has considered possible links between allergies, lactose intolerance, or abnormalities in the bacteria in the gut.
6 Serotonin and Melatonin
Dr. Marc Weissbluth, professor of clinical pediatrics at Northwestern University School of Medicine, and author, feels that colic is caused by an imbalance between serotonin and melatonin levels in baby’s developing brain.
Dr. Weissbluth feels that colicky babies have larger than normal amounts of serotonin in their brains than their non colicky counterparts. Excess serotonin makes the intestinal muscles contract, causing extreme pain Theoretically, this is evidenced by the fact that a colicky baby is more agitated in the evening, when serotonin production peaks.
The theory is further supported by the fact that colic resolves itself by the time baby is three or four months old, when melatonin production begins. Melatonin relaxes the intestinal muscles. This accounts for the disappearance of colic coinciding with the beginning of it’s production.
Weissbluth feels that his theory should be a relief to parents, as it clearly proves that colic is caused by a hormonal balance, and is not the parent’s fault.
Besides unconsolable crying for three or more hours, on three or more days per week, there are many signs and symptoms of colic. These include:
- crying spells that begin in the evening, or at a certain time of day
- baby may draw his or her legs up toward the midsection
- clenched fists
- tightness in her stomach muscles
- passing gas during crying spells
- have a visibly bloated tummy
- high pitched cries or screams
You should contact your health care provider immediately if any of the following are present, as these symptoms indicate that baby may have an underlying condition that needs to be addressed:
- fever of 100.4 or higher
- baby refuses to be soothed, even for just a few minutes
- has bloody stools or diarrhea
- has breathing issues
- seems sleepier than normal
- refuses to feed, or doesn’t suck strongly at breast or bottle
- fewer wet/soiled diapers
- baby’s crying has you so upset that you have thoughts of harming her
Colic is a relatively common condition, and is generally harmless. Before your healthcare provider settles on a diagnosis of colic, any other possible conditions will need to be eliminated.
After a thorough physical exam, your doctor will probably ask you to keep a diary to help pinpoint possible causes of baby’s distress. Some of the things you will want to take note of are:
- the time of day the crying spell begins and ends
- the frequency of the crying spells
- whether or not baby spits up or throws up, and how soon this occurs after feeding
- patterns between what you eat and baby’s crying spells, if you are breastfeeding
- what type of formula, bottle, and nipple you use
- whether or not baby’s stools are normal
- if baby seems to have excess gas after eating
- what works to soothe baby
You may want to make a video so your healthcare provider can get an accurate idea of what is happening, and can make a diagnosis and treatment plan based upon that, in addition to your diary.
4 Calming Techniques
Finding out what works to calm your colicky baby is a trial and error process. What works one day, may not work on another day. Some babies are simply inconsolable during crying spells.
Some healthcare providers feel that imitating life in the womb trips a switch inside baby’s brain, allowing them to be soothed. Swaddling, shushing in baby’s ear, swinging baby, offering a pacifier, and laying baby on her stomach on your forearm, with her head cradled in your hand are all recommended by healthcare professionals as a means to soothe a colicky baby.
Think Outside of The Box
Parents of colicky babies often cherry pick the methods that work best for their babies. Sometimes soothing a colicky baby means thinking outside of the box.
Most parents would say that sound and motion are key to soothing a colicky baby. Here are just a few things that have worked for many parents:
- Take baby for a drive. The security of being in her carseat, combined with the vibration and movement of your vehicle has worked wonders for many parents. Just make sure that you aren’t overtired when you take baby for a late night drive!
- Try taking baby for a walk in a front carrier or stroller.
- Run the vacuum.
- Place baby near the dryer. Never place your baby on top of the dryer, even in her carseat!
- Try playing a white noise or heartbeat soundtrack to soothe baby.
- Try running a fan.
Some parents find that baby’s colic is simply related to sensory overload. If this is the case, the following tips may help:
- Lay baby on her back, in her crib, in a darkened room.
- Lay her across your lap and gently massage her back.
- Place a warm water bottle on baby’s tummy to help relax the intestinal muscles.
- Give her a warm bath with a few drops of lavender essential oil.
- Offer a pacifier.
3 Elimination Diet
If your baby is bottle fed and is experiencing colic, talk to your healthcare provider about switching her to a different type of formula. With so many different choices out there, one of them may be helpful in bringing baby relief.
An elimination diet while breastfeeding takes some time and effort, but if you find a way to help soothe your baby, your efforts won’t be wasted.
One of the most common things in a mother’s diet that can irritate baby are dairy products. Try eliminating them from your diet and see if baby’s colic improves. If there is improvement, gradually add dairy products one serving at a time to find an amount that agrees with your baby.
You may be able to completely re add dairy to your diet after baby is a bit older.
Do not add solids to a baby’s diet that is experiencing colic. Old wives tales suggested giving baby rice cereal to help relieve colic. Babies should be exclusively breastfed for at least the first six months. Bottle fed babies should never be fed solids of any kind until the same age.
2 Chiropractic, Massage and Aromatherapy
Many parents swear by chiropractic adjustments to relieve colic. Be sure that you find a chiropractor who is experienced in dealing with adjusting infants, and is in good standing with your state’s licensure board.
Infant massage can help if baby is having gas and stools along with her discomfort. Lie baby on her back and massage baby’s tummy in a circular motion. Make sure that your hands are warm and you use olive oil on your hands to make the massage more effective. You could also combine a few drops of lavender or chamomile essential oil with the warm olive oil for added benefits.
Diffuse lavender and chamomile in baby’s room during crying spells to bring relief. A warm bath with a few drops of these oils can help calm baby as well.
Research has shown that there is a difference between the gut flora of colicky babies versus non colicky babies. Probiotics add good bacteria back into the gut and restore gut flora to its optimal state.
To give probiotics to your baby, place a small amount of it into a bowl and mix it with breastmilk or formula. Use an eyedropper or small spoon to administer the mixture to your baby.
Natural practitioners have used gripe water to relieve the symptoms of colic for centuries.
It gained popularity in the 1850’s among nannies in England, and it’s popularity quickly spread to the United States.
Originally sold as a prescription, the concoction contained alcohol, sodium bicarbonate, sugar, ginger, dill, fennel, and chamomile.
Today, gripe water is available in a sugar free, alcohol free formula at any health food store, as well as drug stores and big box stores.
While most of the evidence is anecdotal, mothers swear by the benefits of this all natural solution.
1 The Effects of Colic on Families
Dealing with a screaming baby for hours on end takes its toll on the entire family. The family’s schedules revolve around baby’s crying spells, parents feel frustrated, and older children may feel pushed aside as the baby’s crying spell monopolizes parents’ time and energy.
As the parent of a colicky baby, you have to remember to stay as calm as possible. That’s easier said than done when your baby has been wailing in your ear for the past few hours.
If you feel like you are reaching the end of your rope, lay your baby in her crib where she is safe and take a few minutes to regroup. Another option is to hand baby off to another family member or friend and take a break.
Research shows that most instances of violence done to infants have to do with a baby who exhibited the symptoms of colic. Most of the parents who committed these violent acts had no prior record of violence.
The inability to soothe your baby can make you feel like a bad parent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Colic happens to babies that come from all backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. There is nothing that you could have done to prevent your baby from having colic.
Sometimes dealing with a colicky baby can be isolating. Quiet evenings with your spouse and older children can become a thing of the past as you spend hours soothing a colicky baby.
Find a family member or friend who can come sit with baby for a few hours so that you can get some one on one time with your spouse or older children.
It’s important to remember that colic doesn’t last forever, this is only a season. Take crying spells on hour at a time, one minute at a time if necessary. This season will soon pass.
Get support from other moms who are dealing with, or have dealt with a colicky baby. Sometimes hearing other moms talk about their struggles can help you to see that colic has nothing to do with you as a parent and can happen to anyone. You may even get some tips on things that worked to soothe their baby’s colic.
Dealing with a colicky baby can be frustrating, but the important thing to remember is that it isn’t your fault, or your baby’s fault that you have to deal with this, it simply happens.