Parenting a baby who’s always cranky is a huge challenge for a new mom or dad. What do you do when your infant is crying at 1, 2, 3 & 4 a.m. and nothing soothes him for more than a few minutes? Friends may say your baby is “colicky.” You don’t care what it’s called, as long as there’s a way to fix it. Is there?
What Is Colic?
Colic is a bit of a mystery. The term applies to any healthy, well-fed infant who cries more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week, for more than 3 weeks. Here’s what we know about it:
Colic usually starts around age 2 weeks in a full-term infant (or later in a premature infant).
It almost always goes away on its own by 3 or 4 months.
Gender, breast- or bottle-feeding, and birth order don’t affect it.
Kids who had colic as babies are no different than those who didn’t.
What Causes Colic?
Colic’s exact cause is unknown, and that’s why there’s no one way to help it. Some theories of what’s behind it include:
- Tummy trouble, perhaps a problem with the cow’s milk protein or lactose in some baby formulas
- Reflux — heartburn due to stomach acid and milk flowing back into the windpipe
- A growing digestive system with muscles that often spasm
- Hormones that cause stomachaches or a fussy mood
- Oversensitivity or over-stimulated by light, noise, etc.
- A moody baby
- A still-developing nervous system
If you’re concerned, make sure your baby is thoroughly examined to rule out a medical cause for the crying and fussiness. Possible reasons for irritability include:
- Infection — the ears and urinary tract are common spots
- Acid reflux or stomach problems
- Pressure or inflammation of the brain and nervous system
- Eye trouble — like a scratch or increased pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Injury to bones, muscles, or fingers
Based on your baby’s needs, your pediatrician can help. This usually means trying one calming method at a time to see if it helps and, if it doesn’t in a few days, moving on to another one.
Here is a list of some of the interventions for colic:
- Change from one cow’s milk formula to another.
- Change from a cow’s milk formula to a soy formula.
- Change from a regular formula to a “predigested,” hypoallergenic formula.
- If you’re breastfeeding, avoid eating certain foods (such as caffeine, milk, certain vegetables) and taking herbal supplements.
- Change the type of nipples on your baby’s bottle, use bottles with plastic liners, and burp your baby frequently to curb air swallowing during feedings.
- If bottle feeding, try to limit milk intake, and if that doesn’t work, avoid limiting milk intake.
- If your baby is spitting up, keep him upright after he feeds.
Calming the Senses
- Swaddle your baby.
- Try giving him more time in a front baby carrier (the kind you wear over your chest).
- Take your baby for a ride in the car (but not when you are sleepy).
- Use “white noise” (such as static on the radio or the vacuum cleaner), classical music, or a “heartbeat tape” next to the crib.
- Try infant massage.
- Put a warm water bottle on your baby’s belly.
- Have him or her suck on a pacifier.
- Soak baby in a warm bath.
- Try an infant swing.
- Increase or decrease the amount of stimulation in the environment.
- Watch out for over-stimulation or increased fatigue
Medications (Check with your pediatrician before giving your baby any medication, herbs, or supplements)
- Anti-reflux medicines, if reflux is suspected, may cut down on acid production or help to move the milk downstream.
- Use anti-gas drops.
- Try giving the baby “gripe water,” but check the ingredients first. Most contain only herbs, but some from Europe may have alcohol or phenobarbital, which you should avoid.
- Although there is limited scientific evidence to support the use of homeopathic drops for colic, some parents say they have helped their colicky baby. Look for the ones that contain probiotics.
Sometimes, parents think a certain treatment has worked, but the colic might have just gotten better on its own. Other times, parents don’t find an intervention that works well and just have to wait for the fussiness to improve on its own at 4 months or so.
Beware of “cures” that are guaranteed to work for all babies. There is no such thing.
Coping With Colic
It’s challenging to have a baby with colic, and it’s normal and common to harbor feelings of anger and resentment toward your cranky little one. You are not a bad parent because your feelings turn dark and sour in the bad times. Don’t feel guilty that you have these feelings. Everyone does.