Everything was fine in the hospital, but once you got home with your new baby, something changed. She simply won’t sleep more than an hour or so at a time. Not only does she not sleep, she cries. A lot. Endlessly. Days have turned into nights and back into days and nothing you do seems to help end the incessant wailing.
Your emotions are at an all-time low. You feel helpless because you can’t soothe your child. You float between sadness, empathy, frustration, and depression. Is it postpartum? Is my baby’s behavior normal? Is this what having a child is supposed to be like?
Some of us have had to trudge the difficult road you’re traveling, and the good news is, this too shall pass.
If your baby has colic, we’re here to offer help, comfort, and support. Being a new parent is a challenge in its own right, but when you’re thrown a complete curveball like colic, it can bring you to your knees.
If you’re there now, in the trenches with a colicky baby, know this: your baby will eventually sleep. You will eventually sleep. She will not cry forever, and there are some things you can do to help soothe her, and at the very least, feel proactive in the process.
What Does “Colic” Mean?
Although you might automatically think that colic means gastrointestinal distress, that isn’t the case. True colic is really an inability to self-soothe. While most babies may stop crying if given a pacifier when upset, a colic baby may completely refuse to take one. If you’re nursing a colic baby, your baby may not even be soothed to sleep on your breast.
Colic typically develops around two weeks of age, although it can happen sooner. Sometimes referred to as a “100 Day Baby,” babies with colic usually only suffer from it (along with their parents) through three months of age, or roughly 100 days. The onset of colic can throw a new parent into a frenzied panic wondering what they’ve changed that has disturbed their baby.
Generally, colic is a last-house-on-the-block type of diagnosis. In other words, once everything else has been ruled out (i.e. your baby is otherwise healthy except for crying constantly) a diagnosis of colic is given.
For a colic diagnosis, a baby must usually meet criteria known as the Rule of 3’s:
- The baby cries at least three hours a day
- The crying lasts at least three days a week
- The behavior spans at least three weeks of time
- The infant is under three months of age
Colic crying occurs when your baby is fed, napped, and changed. In other words, there appears to be no reason for the crying. Rocking, walking, singing, and bouncing seem to have no calming effect on your child.
When everything else checks out and your baby is still upset, you may have a colicky baby.
Signs To Look For
If you suspect your baby may be colicky, you can look for certain behaviors. One of the tell-tale signs of colic is a high-pitched cry that sounds as though your baby is in pain. This cry can last for hours, and usually follows a daily pattern; i.e. the baby begins crying mid-morning in hour-long clusters, on and off through the evening.
It can sometimes be difficult to discern whether your baby is experiencing gastrointestinal distress or colic. The symptoms of both GI distress and colic can look similar, and a baby that has colic and is gassy will be even more upset that usual.
However, a colic baby’s familiar high-pitched wail is often accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Clenched fists
- Tightened belly
- Bended arms and legs towards belly
These symptoms may look like the baby is gassy or needs to have a bowel movement. Occasionally, after passing gas or producing a stool, the baby will settle, but if the cry is truly colic, even a good diaper change won’t fix it.
We know you want answers. You want to know the source of the problem so you can fix it and help your baby. Unfortunately, the cause of colic is unknown.
There are some theories as to why some babies come out a bit more unsettled than others, but because colic is often a subjective diagnosis made in hindsight, it’s hard to determine the real reason why some babies suffer from it.
Current theories include:
- Overstimulation. This is the theory that your baby is being overstimulated by her external environment. Too many lights, sounds, and other factors cause your baby to have a melt down in an attempt to regain balance.
- GI upset. As previously mentioned, it has long been assumed that colic babies are suffering from some type of GI upset; either gas or reflux. A simple trip to the baby’s primary care provider can help you determine if she’s suffering from something like reflux and in need of medication or some other treatment.
- Nicotine exposure. Babies who are exposed to nicotine in utero are two times as likely to develop colic than babies whose mothers do not use tobacco products while pregnant.
How To Help
Desiring to calm and soothe your baby is a natural parental instinct. It’s hard to accept feelings of defeat when nothing you try seems to work. The most important thing to remember is to remain calm. Crying is not harmful to your baby.
A colic cry is not an emergency, so there’s no need to panic.
When your baby begins her colic crying, you can try a few things to help soothe her as best you can, but if she continues to cry, don’t worry; this is normal behavior for a baby with colic.
Here are some things you can try that may help soothe and relax your baby.
- Gas relief methods. Burping, bicycling your baby’s legs, and placing your baby on your lap belly-down can all help move gas that may be trapped in her body. If the cause of her cries is GI related, alleviating gas or getting her to burp may help.
You can also speak to your baby’s primary care provider to see if giving your baby simethicone gas relief drops and/or probiotics would be effective. Both medications are over-the-counter and could potentially provide relief to an upset digestive system.
- Gripe water. Gripe water is a catch-all term for over-the-counter herbal medications that are said to have a calming effect on your baby. You can check with her pediatrician’s office to ensure it’s okay to give your baby gripe water.
- Go for a walk or a car ride. Sometimes a change of scenery can help settle your baby. Try taking your baby outside for a stroller ride. If she enjoys car rides, you can take a drive in the car to help calm her.
- Consider her diet. Part of determining whether or not your baby has colic will likely be considering what she eats. Her pediatrician can help you decide if a different formula could help, or if you should consider an elimination diet if you are nursing. Ultimately, if it is truly colic, dietary changes are not likely to help.
- Soothe and stay calm. Colic is hard, but remember, it will not last forever. You are going to be frustrated at times, and that is completely normal. Remember to stay as calm as possible, and if you feel like you’re losing your patience, place your baby in her crib and walk into the next room until you feel calm once more.
- Don’t isolate. Colic can force a parent into virtual hibernation mode, feeling like they cannot leave the house or have company because the baby doesn’t stop crying. Reach out to friends and family members and let them know what’s going on. Accept their offers of help so you can get a few hours of peace, and come back better capable of caring for your baby.
There’s no real treatment for colic, because there’s really nothing to treat. True colic isn’t a symptom of something else, or a disease that requires a remedy, it’s simply a developmental stage of some babies’ lives that ends as abruptly as it appears.
A trip to the pediatrician is definitely a must to rule out other medical issues. Your pediatrician can also help offer resources for nursing support if needed. Don’t forget, a colicky baby can also exacerbate postpartum depression.
If you’re feeling helpless, contact your primary care provider or your OB/GYN and schedule an appointment. Postpartum depression is a real thing and you don’t have to suffer in silence.
Colic is a tough experience, but this is a blip on the radar of your baby’s life. There are happier, cry-free days ahead. You’ve got this, and we’re here to support you every step of the way.