Colic is one of those catch-all terms that defines behavior, but isn’t always perfect at getting at the root cause. For example, John Hopkins Medicine defines it as “when a healthy baby cries for a very long time, for no obvious reason. It is most common during the first 6 weeks of life. It usually goes away on its own by age 3 to 4 months. Up to 1 in 4 newborn babies have it.” Similarly, the Mayo Clinic writes, “Colic is frequent, prolonged and intense crying or fussiness in a healthy infant. Colic can be particularly frustrating for parents because the baby's distress occurs for no apparent reason and no amount of consoling seems to bring any relief.”
There are no pre-existing risk factors for colic: any baby can experience it. Common symptoms include:
Intense crying for no apparent reason (like hunger or a dirty/wet diaper) for more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week
Burping often (because they are swallowing a lot of air when crying)
Lack of good, restful sleep
Flushing or blushing of the skin
Stiffened arms or legs
While no one is exactly sure, some possible causes are sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises, inability to self soothe, or food allergies (the variety of formula or something in mom’s diet if the baby is exclusively nursing).
If you’ve covered the basics (Hungry? Wet? Soiled? Hot? Cold?), then here are a few things you can do to help manage colic until the baby outgrows it, usually between 6-16 weeks.
#1 Try soothing your baby with motion: rocking, swinging, riding in the car or taking a walk while holding your baby.
#2 Keep the lights low and the sound minimal, even during the day, to prevent overstimulation.
#3 Use low, rhythmic noises that mimic the womb: a fan, a white noise machine, the dryer, a recording of a heartbeat (many swings have this as one of the sound options), or your voice.
#4 Offer a pacifier. Sucking is calming for many babies.
#5 Switch the baby’s position.
#6 Swaddle the baby. Often a snug blanket makes them feel safe and comfortable.
(#7 Or, you can take advice from my sister’s pediatrician: put the baby in a secure place—like her crib—and take a long, hot shower with loud music playing. It might not stop the crying, but it will give you a little break.)
We are here to help! Tennessee Family Doulas would love to join you as you navigate the early days with your baby. We can rock, walk, and swaddle with the best of them!