One of the hardest and most frustrating conditions to treat as a pediatrician is colic. We want so badly to be able to provide a medicine to take away the endless cries and helplessness it causes so many parents. Many parents use the term “colic” to describe their cranky baby. “My baby has been crying for two hours and absolutely nothing I do seems to soothe the cries.” However, it is important to truly understand what colic is to know when to be concerned and when to take a deep breathe and try a new tactic.
Is my baby cranky or is this colic? Similar to adults, babies can have a bad day. We all dream of having a peaceful sleeping newborn but the reality is that they can be temperamental and fussy. Sometimes we feed them, change them, and distract them, and they still continue to cry. Although this quickly changes the tone of our day, it is not necessarily colic. Colic is prolonged periods of crying defined by the “rule of three.” Does your baby cry for more than three hours at a time, for more than three days of the week, over a time period that exceeds three weeks? If the answers to these questions are yes, than it is possible that your infant is suffering from colic. The exact cause of colic is unknown. Although there are hypotheses that it may be due to a immature digestive system or overstimulates senses, the medical field has not been able to determine the cause of colic. What we do know is that it is not because something that a parent isn’t providing or lack of parenting skills. Typically a baby that is suffering from colic is under the age of five months and is an otherwise healthy newborn. A cranky baby tends to be more peaceful through the day and have crying and fussiness during the evening hours before bedtime. A baby with colic tends to cry through the duration of the day and it gets worse into the evening. The inconsolable cry tends to be louder and higher pitched as the day goes on. A baby suffering from colic may display other symptoms such as extending and pulling their legs in, arching their back, and passing gas. Many parents have the misconception that colic is caused by gas, however, it is actually the colic that results in a gassy stomach. The excessive crying causes air to fill their bellies resulting in gas pains and discomfort.
What can I do to resolve or treat colic? Although there is no cure for colic, there are methods that have been proven to help soothe your crying baby. It is a game of trial and error. No one single tactic or method is going to work for every newborn. It is important to understand that a baby with colic is not an unhappy baby, and that you as a parent are not doing anything wrong. It will get better. Give it time and surround yourself with support and love. Here are some proven methods to help sooth a colicy baby:
Go back to the womb. Many of the methods we use to soothe a baby with colic emulate the environment of the womb. Swaddling is an important method that we have been using for years. The tightness of the blanket provides security and warmth similar to that of the uterus. Using white noise or the sound of a heartbeat are successful tactics used to help calm a crying baby. The one I find most successful is a rocking or swinging motion. During pregnancy, the baby enjoys the gentle motions of moving and walking. This is why many newborns are soothed by a vibrating chair or a swing. Place the baby securely in your arms and gently swing back and forth. The swinging motion provides comfort and distraction.
Eliminate All Other Possibilities. Babies cry for a many different reasons. Sometimes it is as simple as a wet diaper; however, it can also be a sign of something more serious. It is important that if your newborn is crying on a persistent basis or is unable to be soothed, that you have him or her evaluated by their pediatrician. The are many conditions such as reflux, formula intolerance, or allergy that can lead to discomfort and persistent crying. It is important to work with your pediatrician to rule out any conditions that can be treated with medication. Gas and reflux can cause extreme pain and discomfort. If you have a newborn suffering with colic, it is important to invest in products that help to prevent or eliminate gas which can worsen the crying spells. Dr. Brown’s is my favorite line of bottles. Their Dr. Brown’s Options Bottles has an internal system that routes the air through vents within the bottle, bypassing the milk. This helps to reduces air bubble oxidation, preventing gas, as well as maintaining the vitamins in the milk.
Stay Calm and Take A Deep Breath. Take a deep breath. Thankfully, there are a light at the end of the tunnel. Most symptoms of colic start to resolve around four months. It is estimated that by 4 months of age, 80 to 90 percent of infants no longer suffer from colic. In the meanwhile, make sure to surround yourself with a strong support system. It is not only okay to ask for help, it is necessary. That is what family and friends are for. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it is okay to lay your baby in a safe environment, such as their crib, and take a few minutes to yourself. Many times taking a walk or drive around the block not only gives you a break and change of scenery, but also helps to soothe your little one.
I hope this helps you with your journey!