By Catherine Griffin
Your baby has been crying incessantly, and you feel like doing the same. You knew parenthood wouldn’t be easy, but you didn’t know it could be this hard.
As your baby has one inconsolable day after another, you’re starting to wonder if this could be colic. Let’s get you up to speed on this common ailment and give you some coping strategies that can help you weather this storm.
What Exactly Is Colic?
Because the word colic gets thrown around so much, doctors have come up with a definition that can help them determine if your baby is suffering from it. They use the rule of 3 to help determine that. Simply put, if your baby cries for more than three hours per day, for at least three days a week, and for more than three weeks, they are classified as having colic.
When Does Colic Begin?
The first couple of weeks might have been smooth sailing for you and your baby. And then suddenly, the crying time may have really increased, leading you to be concerned about your baby’s overall safety and health.
But that’s normal with colic. It usually doesn’t hit before your baby is about two weeks old. And if your baby was a preemie, it can start even later than that.
When Does It End?
This is one of the first questions parents want to know the answer to because colic is incredibly stressful for them. It’s rare for colic to extend past four months old.
The good news is it’s generally short-lived. But while three and a half months of colic may not seem so bad to someone who isn’t experiencing it, when you’re living through it, it can feel like an eternity.
Why Does Colic Happen?
Doctors don’t know why some babies get colic while others don’t. They don’t even know how common it is, with colic estimates ranging from 8 percent of babies all the way up to 40 percent of babies.
Colic remains a mystery, although there are speculations about what causes it. The possibilities include:
- Gas discomfort.
- Immature digestive system.
- Anxiety or stress within the family that the baby picks up on.
- Not enough healthy bacteria in the gut.
- Not enough burping.
- A baby who is more prone to sensitive moods.
- Not feeding baby enough, or overfeeding.
- A nervous system that hasn’t fully matured yet.
- Hormones that contribute to moodiness or stomach discomfort.
- Food sensitivities.
Is There Anything I Can Do To Prevent It?
If you’re already the parent of a child who had colic and you’re expecting your next child, you’re probably eager to avoid going through that again. Since doctors don’t know what causes colic for sure, it can be difficult to pinpoint what parents can do to reduce the risk of having a colicky baby.
That being said, doctors have identified one risk factor. Babies who have mothers who smoked while they were pregnant or around them after they were born seem to have a higher chance of dealing with colic. It’s just one more reason to keep your baby free from tobacco both during pregnancy and after birth.
Signs You Might Be Dealing With Colic
Even with the definition of what constitutes colic, some parents may be wondering if that’s really what their baby is struggling with. It can be tough to discern the difference between normal crying and excessive crying, especially for first-time parents.
In addition to the rule of 3, here are some other indications your baby might have colic.
- Their face gets red or discolored, or their skin looks lighter around the mouth area.
- Noticeable tension in the body, such as stiff legs or arms, a tight-feeling belly, arching of the back, or tightly-clenched fists.
- A pattern to the time when the crying fits occur. Babies with colic often cry more in the evenings.
- Remaining fussy even when the crying has calmed down.
- You’ve checked all the other causes your baby might be crying and nothing has helped. Read our article on the other reasons your baby may cry to check each possibility.
- The crying has a sense of urgency to it, like your baby is in pain.
What You Should Do If You Suspect Colic
You should make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to see if there are any underlying causes for the crying. Excessive crying may indeed be colic, but your doctor will want to rule out any other conditions or illnesses.
What Are Normal Feeling When Dealing With a Colicky Baby?
Colic can be far tougher than you ever imagined, and you can be left feeling like a failure as a parent. It’s okay, and even normal, to feel cheated, sad, stressed, angry, and worried.
You may have envisioned quiet days of holding your sweet baby as you gazed upon his perfect, peaceful face. If your reality turned out to be nothing like that, you could feel cheated out of that experience. That doesn’t make you a bad parent – it just means you’re disappointed you didn’t get what you wanted. That’s natural, so you shouldn’t beat yourself up for that.
The emotion that many parents of babies with colic especially struggle with is anger. The anger can feel so intense; it may scare you.
Sometimes it can be directed at your partner if you feel they aren’t doing their fair share of the work or giving you enough breaks. Your anger may be directed at your other children who inadvertently add to your stress. Or it may be directed at your helpless little baby.
All of that anger can make you feel worse. You know it’s not your partner’s fault, your baby’s fault, and that you shouldn’t be upset with your other children. But that’s the thing about stress and anger – it can overtake you if you let it.
Your primary goal should be having coping strategies in place so you can deal with these negative, but natural, emotions in the healthiest way possible for yourself, your baby, and everyone around you.
Methods For Soothing Your Baby
Coming up with ways to nip that crying in the bud will be invaluable to you for the next few weeks while you’re dealing with colic. Here are some things you can try to soothe that sobbing baby.
- Rocking: Babies find the rocking motion calming. That’s because, in theory, it gives them the same sensation of movement that they had in their mother’s belly. Some babies may respond to this method, while others may not. But it’s worth a try, and you may find it calming for yourself as well.
- Baby massage: A study on baby massage shows it did have some benefit for babies in at least one clinical trial. You can look up massage techniques for infants online to get started. Reference: http://ijnmr.mui.ac.ir/index.php/ijnmr/article/view/1410
- Vented bottles: If you bottle feed instead of breastfeeding, you can buy vented bottles in an attempt to cut down on how much air your baby is taking in during feeding. If gas or the need to burp is contributing to their colic, it may reduce some of their discomfort.
- White noise: Turning on a fan in the background may help babies suffering from colic, especially if overstimulation is coming into play.
- Probiotics: Probiotics have been targeted more than ever in recent years as one means of fighting colic. Although the research isn’t conclusive, there does appear to be a reduced incidence of colic among babies who are given Reference: https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/news/20140113/probiotic-drops-might-ease-colic-study#1
- Changing formulas: This is worth a shot for formula-fed babies in case the colic is caused by a food sensitivity. Talk to your pediatrician before making a switch.
- Swaddling: Learning how to swaddle your baby before you leave the hospital may help you battle colic if your baby develops it. Swaddling can help fussy babies cry less and sleep better.
Coping Strategies For Colic
You need to have a plan when your child has colic, and the best plan you can come up with is one that keeps yourself mentally healthy during this trying time.
Here are some things you can try.
- Asking for help: This is going to be a difficult phase of your life, and there’s no shame about admitting you need help. Make sure you and your partner take regular breaks from your crying baby, both separately and together as a couple. Ask your friends and family to pitch in with a little babysitting if they’re able.
- Prepare for the evening: Since for some reason, colic tends to be worse in the evenings, make sure you’re ready for the nightly crunch. Have your baby’s bath items ready to go in the bathroom so you aren’t trying to round up supplies while you’re frantically trying to soothe her. Have a pre-made frozen dinner ready to pop in the oven so you aren’t trying to juggle dinner duty with a hysterical baby.
- Nap while your baby naps: The housework can wait. You need to be well-rested to deal with colic. That might mean letting things slide so you can grab some shut-eye when your baby does.
- Talk about it: You don’t have to pretend to anyone that things are going great at home when they aren’t. Get your feelings out by joining an online group or venting to other parents. You may find they’ve dealt with colic in the past and have some great tips for you.
- Walk away: If you are alone with a baby who has been crying on and off for hours and you’re feeling angry, the best thing you can do is put your baby in his crib for a few minutes and walk away. Leave the room for a few minutes until you’re feeling calmer.