A Parent’s Guide to Surviving Colic

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A Parent’s Guide to Surviving Colic

Colic…that dreaded word that strikes fear in the hearts of most parents. No matter how cute and cuddly your baby may be, after weeks (or months) of seemingly non-stop crying, even the most stalwart of parents may feel on the verge of losing it.

Rachel Managed MD, Westchester Health Pediatrics, colic, colicky baby, baby with colic

Rachel Menaged, MD

But hang on, help is on the way.

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, our pediatricians have dealt with colicky infants (and frustrated parents) for decades, and we’re ready to help you and your baby get through this really difficult period.

How to tell if it’s colic or just normal fussiness

Crying is one of the main ways infants communicate. Your baby’s cries let you know that he/she is hungry, wet, overtired, uncomfortable or sick. Once you take care of his/her needs, your baby should calm down. If the crying doesn’t stop but instead, ramps up and lasts throughout the day or night, it might be colic.

Colic is defined as crying more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week in a baby younger than 3 months old. These crying spells often start when babies are around 2-3 weeks old and usually stop by about 3-4 months of age. They can occur at any time, although they often become worse in the early evening.

Symptoms of colic:

  • crying inconsolably
  • cannot be soothed
  • screaming
  • extending or pulling up the legs
  • passing gas
  • enlarged stomach, distended with gas

What causes colic?

Unfortunately, there is no definitive explanation for what causes colic; many different things may bring it on. Some babies become easily overwhelmed by lights, sounds and other stimulation. Some cannot “self-console” when something upsets them and they react by crying. Sometimes breastfed babies are sensitive to something in their mother’s diet.

Babies may be more likely to get colic if they:

  • Eat too much or too little
  • Eat too quickly or swallow too much air while nursing, which causes gas
  • Have an allergy to formula
  • Are sensitive to a food in their mother’s diet if they are breastfed
  • Live in a stressful environment

If you suspect colic, consult your pediatrician

Your first step should be to check with your pediatrician to make sure your baby’s crying is not related to a medical condition that might require treatment. For guidelines to help you determine if your baby is sick, click here.

If it is colic, here are 8 ways to make it better

Although it might feel like your baby’s colic will never end, trust us, it will. In the meantime, try these suggestions that have helped parents in our practice ease the stress and cope with the crying:

1) If you’re nursing: It can be helpful to eliminate certain foods, such as milk, from your diet. Always check with your pediatrician before limiting your diet.

2) Do not overfeed your baby, which can make little tummies uncomfortable, even painful. In general, try to wait at least 2½ hours from the start of one feeding to the start of the next one.

3) Walk with your baby on your chest in a baby carrier. The motion and body contact will sooth and reassure your infant, even if his/her tummy pain persists. Remember: you cannot spoil a young infant by holding him/her too much.

4) Use soothing sounds to comfort and soothe. Try running the vacuum, the clothes dryer, a fan or a white-noise machine. Steady rhythmic motion and a calming sound may help your infant relax and fall asleep. (Some parents find that going for a ride in the car also helps.) NOTE: Never place your child on top of the washer/dryer.

5) Try a pacifier. While some breastfed babies will not take a pacifier, for most infants it gives instant relief (for the parents too!).

6) Lay your baby tummy-down across your knees and gently rub his/her back. The pressure against your baby’s belly may help comfort and quiet him/her.

7) Swaddle your baby in a large, thin blanket. This will help make your infant feel secure and warm, which will hopefully stop the crying. To learn the proper way to swaddle, check out our page on swaddling.

8) Take a break. It’s very easy to become tense, frustrated and exhausted with a colicky baby. When you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, it’s important to time a time out. Have your partner, another family member or a friend look after the baby so you can take a breather, preferably out of the house. Even an hour or two away will help you get perspective and maintain your sanity.

Never shake your baby

No matter how frustrated or angry you become, a baby should never be shaken. This can cause blindness, brain damage and even death. If your baby won’t stop crying, go in another room for a few minutes, take deep breaths, count to 10, get something to eat. For tips on how to safely handle your newborn, click here.

Very important: If you are feeling overwhelmed, please get help from a counseling center or mental health professional. Colic can be very, very draining but trust us, it will eventually get better. And you and your baby will both benefit from your getting help when you need it.

By Rachel E. Menaged, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics.

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About the Author: ML Ball