All babies cry. Crying is the main way that a baby communicates her needs before she starts to use language. If baby is hungry, tired, sick, uncomfortable, or has a soiled diaper, crying is a completely normal occurrence. But what about those babies who seemingly cry for no reason, sometimes for hours on end? If a crying baby cannot be comforted despite having all of her needs met, the cause may be colic.
What Is Colic?
Colic is a word that doctors use to describe a baby that consistently cries for long periods of time and is hard to comfort, usually for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, there is not a known cause or a specific treatment. What doctors do know is that 1 in 5 children have colic. Symptoms usually begin around 3 to 6 weeks of age and end around 3 to 4 months, sometimes lasting through 6 months of age. Crying episodes are very long, sometimes 3 to 5 hours per day. Excessive crying in general can sometimes indicate a medical problem, but a colicky baby is usually healthy. She will also act normally between crying episodes.
Some professionals believe that the crying is caused by GI upset or sensitivity to breast milk or other formulas. Others believe that the crying happens because of nervous system issues, causing babies to have problems “self-consoling.” Some research even indicates that colicky babies may suffer from headaches. None of these theories are proven, so if your baby is having symptoms of colic, it is always best to talk with your child’s Pediatrician.
Unfortunately, there is no magic trick that guarantees a calm, colic-free baby. Nevertheless, here are some tips and ideas to try when an episode starts:
- First, ensure that all of baby’s needs have been met. Is her diaper clean? Is she tired? Does she have any symptoms of illness? Is she too hot or too cold? Has she been fed an appropriate amount? (Remember: Over-feeding your baby can also cause discomfort).
- Assess if your baby may be over-stimulated or bored. Too much activity, lights and sound can overwhelm a baby, and too little activity can result in boredom.
- Never shake a crying baby. If you feel overwhelmed, place baby down in a safe area or hand her to another responsible adult.
- Walk, calm and soothe your baby. Gentle motion and bodily contact can sometimes help to calm a baby down.
- Swaddle your baby in a thin blanket so she feels secure and warm.
- Try a pacifier.
- Turn on some soft, soothing music.
- Burp her more frequently during feeds.
- Lay your baby tummy-down on your lap or on the floor and gently rub her back. The gentle pressure against her belly may help soothe her. If she falls asleep on her tummy, remember to place her in a crib on her back.
- If breastfeeding, be careful not to eat foods that are gas-producing or irritating to the stomach, like lots of dairy, onions, caffeine, or spicy foods. All of the foods that you eat get passed to baby when nursing. If it gives you GI upset, it will likely also make your baby’s tummy upset.
- Keep record of events surrounding crying episodes. This can help your doctor figure out if something may be causing her to cry.
Remember that love and care from a trustworthy adult is the most important thing for a baby to receive. No matter how tiresome the crying may be, continue snuggling, rocking, singing to, and loving your baby. The colicky symptoms will eventually come to an end.
Do you have experience with a colicky baby? If so, please share your soothing tips here.
Kelsey Rinzel is a Pediatric Registered Nurse who cares for children in the Special Care Nursery and Medical Daycare programs at Penfield. She also addresses the health and wellness needs for all of Penfield’s in-center children. She is passionate about kids, and loves her job!
“Calming a Fussy Baby.” Healthychildren.org, American Academy of Pediatrics. 6 October 2014. Web. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/crying-colic/Pages/Calming-A-Fussy-Baby.aspx
“Crying and Your Baby: How to Calm a Fussy or Colicky Baby.” Pediatric Patient Education. American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. http://patiented.aap.org/content2.aspx?aid=6151
“Your Colicky Baby.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation. Web. http://kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?dn=KidsHealth&lic=l&ps=1