Colic is a common condition that occurs in about one-fifth of all infants. Experts believe colic comes about due to an immature nervous system. Colicky babies are not able to soothe themselves yet and therefore resort to crying spells. Fortunately, it is not a medical problem and usually goes away by the time a baby is three to six months old.
According to the Mayo Clinic, colic in babies is defined as crying that lasts for three or more hours a day for three days a week for three weeks or longer in otherwise well-fed, healthy babies. Because it is their only form of communication, infant crying is normal. In fact, many new parents don’t realize their babies have colic for this reason.
Although there is no known cause of colic, there are patterns that trend with colicky babies. Colic is usually marked by inconsolable crying, often in the evening hours. Colicky babies typically cry around the same time every day. Often babies will express gas throughout their fussiness and have a bowel movement towards the end of their crying spell. They will also tense up by curling their legs into their bodies and clench their fists.
Medical professionals have tried to understand more about colic but cannot seem to find a true cause. It is unrelated to gender, breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, birth order or any other known factors. However, babies born prematurely or whose mothers smoked, drank alcohol or did drugs during pregnancy have a higher risk of colic.
If your baby tends to be fussier than most and has the signs of colic, you should visit your pediatrician to confirm your diagnosis and ensure the crying is not due to any true medical condition. Colic is not associated with irregular bowel movements (either diarrhea or constipation), fever, vomiting, loss of weight or lethargy. If any of these symptoms appear, see your doctor immediately.
Once you know your baby has colic, try the following ways to soothe her and reduce fussiness:
- Rock, bounce and otherwise move your baby around. This calms the nervous system and may lull your baby to sleep.
- Wear your baby in a carrier. The closeness will keep her warm, allow her to hear your heartbeat, give her constant movement and ultimately encourage her to calm down.
- Expose your baby to constant sound such as white noise, the hum of the dryer or a vacuum cleaner.
- Allow your baby to suck on a pacifier.
- Swaddle your baby, even during the day.
- Dim lights and avoid loud noises that may stimulate or startle your baby.
- Give your baby a massage using a gentle baby lotion or natural oil.
- Soak your baby in a warm bath.
- Lay your baby across your lap tummy-down to help relieve stomach pressure.
- Burp your baby often during feedings.
- Don’t let your baby nurse for too long at one time. Overfeeding can cause an upset stomach.
- Wait two to three hours between feedings. Again, this ensures your baby is not getting too full.
- Consider whether anything in your diet is causing your baby to be fussy such as caffeine, fiber or alcohol.
- Ask your doctor before taking other measures such as giving gas drops, using herbal remedies or adding cereal to your baby’s bottle.
Colic can be very frustrating for new parents. The droning sound of crying for hours can drive anyone a little bonkers. If your baby is colicky, it’s a good idea to take breaks from the peak fussy hours every now and then. Ask for help from your partner and other family members or hire a caregiver. These time-outs will help keep you sane and help prevent you from resenting your baby.
Remember, colic is short-lived and will not have a lasting effect on your child. Even with challenges like colic, new parenthood should be mostly a time of joy and love for your new little bundle of joy.