What is colic, and what can you do about it?
When Mary Widdicks had her second baby, who was one of the above “easy babies,” she was surprised at the difference – her firstborn would wail ceaselessly for hours every night, leaving her feeling like an incompetent mom. It was clear that something was disturbing the poor little guy, but what?
Episodes of colic can be pretty disturbing to a new parent, who isn’t necessarily feeling sure of their parenting abilities from the outset: watching your newborn wail, red-faced and tense, and being unable to comfort them is unpleasant to say the least. What you feed them doesn’t make a difference, either – breastfed and formula-fed babies are equally likely to suffer from colic.
Colic is a mystery – many studies have been done, but few answers have been found, and obviously, asking your baby “why do you cry so much?” isn’t going to get you far. It’s hard to estimate how many babies suffer from a chronically unhappy tummy – experts say that it may be as few as 8 percent or as many as 40 percent. And as many as 95% of cases of colic may have “no discernible cause.” YIKES.
Theories cited at Babycenter include:
- The Sensitive Baby Theory: Having recently emerged from a dark, quiet place, a baby with a high-strung temperament can only take so much of the loud, bright outside world. “By the time evening rolls around, they say, these babies just can’t handle any more sights, sounds, or sensations, and so they become distraught and cry.” I can see where that seems like a reasonable response to being that overwhelmed.
- The Intestinal Bacteria Theory: Some studies have shown that newborns who suffer from colic have different intestinal microflora from calmer babies. Some medical trials have shown good results from treating babies with probiotics, while others have not been as promising.
So… what can you do?
The obvious first step is to take your baby to the pediatrician, to rule out any treatable illness. In most cases, the diagnosis will be “colic,” and the only thing you can do is take out your arsenal of soothing behaviors and see what helps. MedicalNewsToday.com recommends the following:
- Swaddling your baby tightly may help them calm down and stay calm. We offer a wide variety of swaddling blankets – find the one that works for you!
- Simply holding the baby may help.
- Sitting the baby upright during feeding may help to keep them from swallowing air. More frequent and smaller feedings may also help.
- If you’re breastfeeding, something you’re eating or drinking may be irritating baby’s tummy – try eliminating coffee, tea, spicy foods, and/or alcohol and see if it helps.
- Pacifiers can also be helpful. The Wubbanub is one of our faves – not only are the attached stuffed animals adorable, but they’re comforting for babies to snuggle, and make it easier for the baby to keep her paci in her mouth.
- Some baby bottles are designed with venting systems to help babies swallow less air, and this can be a big help.
- Burping is a must! Sit baby upright against your shoulder with her head and neck supported, and rub her back and tummy until the air comes out. A little milk coming out with it is normal.
- You may find that picking the baby up and putting them down frequently might intensify the crying – putting them down in a quiet, dim place may help.
- Motion is good! Going for a walk in your stroller may help, and some babies are notoriously fond of the motor and motion of a car ride. If this is your baby: the Car Ride setting on the MamaRoo may do the trick. Driving while you’re exhausted can be dangerous- the MamaRoo is safer!
- A baby carrier or sling may also help – it keeps your arms free, keeps baby close to you, and keeps her in motion.
- White noise can also be soothing, including a washing machine, or a vacuum cleaner. The
Cloud B Sleep Sheep is a popular source for white noise to soothe babies, and isn’t it adorable?
- A warm bath, or gentle massage may also help.
Finally: DON’T GO IT ALONE. A Brown University study from 2006 linked infant colic and postpartum depression, and along with taking care of your baby, you need to take care of yourself. Part of that is going to require making sure that your partner is doing their share, and bringing in your mom, your sister, your best friend, a trusted babysitter, or another caregiver to step in and give you a break.
Don’t feel guilty for needing some time to yourself: a happier mom is a better mom, and whatever saves your sanity is GOOD for your baby. Of course, if you experience any of the symptoms of postpartum depression, talk to your doctor immediately – treatment can and will help, and it’s important.
And remember: colic DOES end. By 4 months of age, most babies are over it, and you can begin really enjoying your life together!