From the moment a baby is born, crying is the first sound every parent hopes to hear. And in the mind of every parent, crying is just an indication that the baby is tired, hungry, or is in need of a fresh diaper – something that can be easily remedied. Unfortunately, constant inconsolable crying, or colic, can affect any baby for no apparent reason at all.
What is colic?
According to Jennifer Hartman, CPNP, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Town and Country Pediatrics in Chicago, colic is defined as unexplained crying episodes that are not attributable to hunger, pain, discomfort, or illness occurring more than one time a day and usually lasting for hours. Research suggests that about one-fifth of all babies develop colic. Colic usually starts between the second and fourth week of life, and can last up to six months.
Hartman says, “The causes of colic are not well understood. But one factor is certain, parents do not cause colic. Colic may be related to the fact that the child is unusually sensitive to stimulation or cannot ‘self-console’ or regulate his nervous system.” Studies have shown that “as a baby matures, this ability to self-console will improve and thus the constant crying will decrease.”
Dealing with colic
While no single thing can necessarily stop a colicky baby from crying altogether, there are a lot of things parents and caregivers can do to help make the baby become more comfortable. Elise Pensec, LMT, Certified Infant Massage Instructor with Lincoln Park and Lakeview Athletic Clubs in Chicago, suggests incorporating various movements to help comfort a crying baby. Rubbing gentle circles on his abdomen, or laying him on his back and bending his legs one at a time is often relaxing if gas is the culprit.
At the very least, Pensec says that babies are no different than adults in taking comfort in being touched or massaged. Some babies like to be massaged on their legs, and some babies like to have their bellies rubbed. It’s important to address a baby’s primary needs (hunger, sleep, etc.) to ensure the baby is as satisfied as possible in all areas.
Colic can be both frustrating and exhausting. It’s not uncommon for a parent to feel like they’re at their wits’ end. If you are feeling very overwhelmed, Hartman advises to “put your baby down in the crib where it is dark and quiet, and see if your baby will fall asleep or calm himself. If crying continues for 10 minutes, pick baby up and try to comfort him again.” Most importantly, a baby should never be shaken as blindness, brain damage, or death can result. Colic is only temporary, and every baby moves onto a new stage to which parents and caregivers can marvel!
Simple tips to try at home
- Use a swing, sling, carrier, vibrating seat, or stroller. Motion may be reassuring, even if your baby continues to cry.
- Pick up and soothe your young infant when he cries – you cannot spoil a colicky baby this way.
- Offer a pacifier if your baby takes one.
- Give your baby a bath. Run the shower for a few minutes beforehand to warm the room.
- Babies like white noise. Use a sound machine, run the vacuum cleaner, or turn on the TV for background noise.
- Lay your baby tummy down across your knees and gently rub her back.
- Swaddle her in a blanket so that she feels secure.
- Do not overfeed your colicky infant. Burp regularly in-between feedings.
When to call baby’s pediatrician
- Fever above 100.4 °F
- Blood/Mucus in stool
- Cries for 3 hours or more
- Younger than 1 month
- Older than 3 months
- Cries more frequently
- Behavior change