By Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns ~~~
If your newborn cries a lot you may wonder if you’re dealing with colic. Not all crying babies have colic, but all colicky babies cry ¾ and they cry hard. They may stiffen their little bodies, arch their backs, or curl up as if in pain. When babies bawl like this, they take in a lot of air, which creates gas and more pain, making them cry even more—fueling a vicious cycle that many parents struggle with on a daily basis.
Researchers are unsure of colic’s exact cause, but some experts believe that the condition is related to the immaturity of a baby’s digestive system. Others theorize that a baby’s immature nervous system and inability to handle the constant sensory stimulation that surrounds her cause a breakdown by the end of the day, when colic most often occurs.
Whatever the cause—and it may be a combination of theories—colic is among the most exasperating conditions that parents of new babies face. Colic occurs only in newborns, up to about four to five months of age. Symptoms include:
- A regular period of nonstop, inconsolable crying, typically late in the day
- Crying bouts that last one to three hours or more
- A healthy and happy disposition at all other times of the day
Can colic be prevented?
Given that the causes of colic are still up in the air, experts don’t know if it can be prevented. If you think your baby has colic, talk with your pediatrician and take make an appointment for a checkup to rule out any medical cause for the constant crying. If your little one is given a clean bill of health, then you’ll know colic is the culprit for the daily crying bouts.
Remember that nothing you do will eliminate colic completely until your baby’s system is mature and able to settle on its own. That said, there are ways to help your baby though this time. Look for patterns to your baby’s crying; these can provide clues as to which suggestions are most likely to help. Stick with an idea for a few days to see if it works, and watch for any signs of improvement. If one course of action doesn’t seem to help, don’t get discouraged ¾ just try something else. Here are some ideas:
- If you’re breastfeeding, feed on demand (cue feeding) for nutrition as well as comfort, as often as your fussy baby needs a calming influence.
- Foods that give you gas might do the same for your baby if you breastfeed, so try avoiding these culinary culprits. Eliminate one possible cause for a few days and see if it makes a difference in your baby’s fussiness. The most common offenders are dairy products, caffeine, cabbage, broccoli, onion or <gasp!> chocolate. Don’t immediately eliminate these foods, just pay close attention for telltale signs after every meal, since many babies aren’t affected by your meals at all.
- If you’re bottle-feeding, offer more frequent but smaller meals and experiment with different formulas—with your doctor’s approval.
- Try different types of bottles and nipples that prevent air from entering your baby during drinking, such as those with curved bottles or collapsible liners.
- Hold your little one in a more upright position for feeding and directly afterwards.
- Offer meals in a quiet, distraction-free setting.
- If your baby enjoys a pacifier, offer her one when she starts to whimper.
- Invest in a baby sling or soft carrier and use it during colicky periods.
- Go outside for a stroll if the weather’s nice. Otherwise, bring your stroller in the house and walk your baby around, or gently bounce her and hum, sing or play white noise sounds as you stroll in a quiet, dark room.
- Give your distressed baby a warm bath if she likes that; the warm water can soothe away any body aches, and provide a welcome distraction for her.
- Massage your little one’s tummy or back, or give her a full body massage.
- Swaddle your baby in a muslin blanket. Studies have shown that the mimicked womb wrapping is comforting to many newborns.
- Hold your baby in a rocking chair, or place your baby in a rocking cradle or infant swing—the constant motion can placate even the fussiest of babies.
- Keep your baby away from highly stimulating situations during the day (such as television and noisy, flashing toys) to prevent sensory overload. A particularly busy day may mean a fussier evening, so brace yourself for tears if you’ve been on the go all day long.
- Play soothing music or turn on white noise such as a talk radio station, or play a CD of nature sounds, such as ocean waves or rainfall.
Trying to comfort your colicky baby often feels like fighting an uphill battle. Equipped with these infant-soothing tips, you’ll be able to provide calm for the storm and soothe those tiny tears.
My next column will provide some tips for helping parents to cope with colic.
Elizabeth Pantley is a mother of four, grandmother, and author of the bestselling book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns plus 8 other books in the No-Cry Solution Series, which helps Moms and Dads through all key stages of parenting