I always looked forward to having children. The thought of snuggling a sweet newborn all day and experiencing all the love and emotions that came with it was something I was beyond excited for after I got married. However, I didn’t realize that with all the love and beauty also comes a lot of difficulty. Babies cry a lot, and it’s difficult to figure out their needs (especially when you’re running on no sleep). But what if your baby cries beyond the “normal” amount? The stress can quickly become unbearable when you just cannot soothe your sweet baby, and all you want to do is help. If this sounds like you, your baby is most likely experiencing colic. Whether you’ve had a colicky baby before, or this is all new to you, here is some helpful info and tips to help you navigate and soothe your baby (and how to help yourself in this trying time.)
What is colic?
All newborns cry; it is their way of communicating needs as they navigate all the sensations they are experiencing in their new world. However, when a healthy baby cries frequently and intensely for no apparent reason, your baby is most likely experiencing colic.
An easy way to determine if your baby is crying beyond the normal amount is to keep track. If your newborn cries more than 3 hours per day for at least 3 days per week and this continues for more than 3 weeks, then he or she is struggling with colic.
Colic is incredibly common, with studies showing it happens in as many as 1 in 5 babies. It often starts around 3 weeks old, and normally gets better by 4 months of age, so remember that there is an end in sight even in the moments when it doesn’t feel like it.
Are there risk factors for colic?
Every baby has a different temperament and personality that is present from birth. Some babies will just be more sensitive to their new environment than others, causing them to react and respond through crying by even the slightest change or discomfort.
Colic is not genetic, and no race or gender is more likely to experience it. It also doesn’t increase the likelihood if your child is breastfed or bottle fed, or if a baby is premature or full-term.
What causes colic?
There are many theories out there from health care providers on what causes colic. Many of these theories fall within 2 categories: sensitivities and stressors.
- Sensitivity: Some pediatricians theorize that colic is caused by a child’s sensitivity. This could include sensitivity to the environment, such as different lights and sounds, or it could mean digestive sensitivity. Digestive sensitivity is fairly common in both formula-fed and breastfed babies. Some formulas may contain ingredients that may be upsetting your newborn's tummy. If breastfed, the child may be sensitive to something that the mother is eating that is being passed through the milk. Babies may also be sensitive to gas pains or issues with reflux after eating. If you suspect this is the case for your little one, check out these articles for tips on reducing gas or reflux in newborns.
- Stress: Babies can sense emotions and feelings very early on. Some doctors believe that the stress parents are experiencing can increase the stress in a newborn. If you find that your baby is exposed to excessive amounts of stress, whether that’s in the form of familial troubles, work stress, or spousal disagreements, do what you can to try to diminish the exposure. This may help relieve some of your child’s colic.
How to care for your colicky baby
- Seek professional help: First things first, always visit your pediatrician to be evaluated. Make sure that there isn’t anything concerning about your newborn’s health that needs to be addressed.
- Journal: Record in a journal what you are eating and doing each day. You may also want to record when your baby seems to cry most often and for how long. This may help you figure out what's triggering it, as well as help you figure out what methods are working best to calm your child.
- Experiment: Examine variables that may be causing excessive fussiness and make changes to see if anything helps. Try changing formula to a more gentle brand or adjusting your own diet if you are breastfeeding to see if the colic is caused by a food sensitivity. Your baby may be sensitive to light and sounds, so try adjusting light and dark and decrease loud sounds or distractions that may be stressing out or overstimulating your newborn.
- Reduce gas: Excessive gassiness can happen from feeds, but it can also be caused from the crying itself when a baby takes in air during crying episodes. Try burping baby, or try a product like gas drops to see if it helps relieve the gassiness.
- Provide comfort: Do your best to make your baby comfortable in his new environment. Simple changes can make a big difference for your little one. Some comfort measures that always worked for my babies were giving baths, snuggling in a blanket together, swaddling, and baby wearing. You may also want to check to ensure your baby is in a clean diaper. Some babies have sensitive skin, so switching to a gentle clothing brand like Kyte BABY may help. Changing your laundry detergent can even make a big difference.
Remember, colic WILL resolve itself on its own. This normally happens by 4 months. If you’ve tried everything you can to help your baby and she is still colicky, do your best to make sure you are taking care of yourself while you wait it out.
How to care for YOURSELF with a colicky baby
Crying in general is difficult to cope with, but it can quickly become unmanageable when you feel like none of your efforts are helping. The increased lack of sleep you get as a result makes it even harder, decreasing your ability to be patient. Some parents may even feel their relationship and connection with their baby is suffering as a result. Because of this, it’s important to find ways to care for yourself, which often helps your care for and connect better with your baby as well.
- Practice self care: Try to find time to be alone so that you can practice self care. Self care looks different for everyone. For some, that means exercise, and to others it means going out for Crumbl cookies and a soda. I personally love a warm bubble bath and a good book to read. No matter what self care looks like for you, make sure you find something that will help relieve your stress. That way you can come back feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the situation.
- Ask for help: Reach out to others to watch your newborn, or take turns with your spouse so that you don't get overly frustrated or angry with your baby. If there is no one there to help you, put your baby down, leave the room for a few minutes, and do something that will help you relax and recharge. I found that whenever my babies were inconsolable, taking turns with my husband ensured neither one of us got too frustrated by the situation. Getting overly frustrated can not only increase your baby's stress, but it can also cause you to unintentionally hurt your baby. Sometimes it is best to let your baby cry for a few minutes so you can calm down.
- Bond with your baby: It may not alleviate colic completely, but it will increase your love and connection with your child which can help you get through the stressful moments. Some great ways to bond are through feedings, baby-wearing, skin-to-skin, reading/singing to your newborn, and rocking them to sleep. No matter what you do, try to give your full, undivided attention to your little one by looking him/her in the eyes and being close.
- Stay well rested: This can be extremely hard to do in the newborn phase, but becomes even more difficult if your baby is crying excessively throughout the day and night. Do your best to set a specific, early bedtime and stick to it. Try to keep your phone in another room so you won’t be tempted to stay up late watching old episodes of Gilmore Girls all night long. If you need to, take shifts with your husband or partner so you can get longer stretches of sleep. This will ensure you both get the rest you need, which will help you be less stressed, making it easier to be patient with your little one.
- Practice yoga or meditate: Along those same lines of reducing stress, try yoga or meditation. Yoga has always been a great way for me to feel a connection between my mind and body, to take the time to breathe and relax, and to come out feeling calm and stress-free.
Products to help with colic
Although some babies will remain colicky no matter what you do, here is a summary of some products that may be worth trying!
- Solly Baby Wrap: Baby wearing can help you bond with your baby, decreasing stress in both mom and baby while also helping your baby sleep. I personally love the Solly Baby Wrap because its breathable while also keeping your baby snug and tight, just like in the womb.
- Gas Relief Products: You can find gas relief drops or gripe water that may help reduce stomach discomfort. Fridababy also offers a GasPasser, giving you a natural and medicine free way to reduce gas.
- Baby Bottles: Changing the baby bottles you use may help reduce gas intake, that may help your baby cry less. Comotomo bottles have leak-free vents designed to help prevent colic.
- Kyte BABY Clothing: Changing your baby’s clothing may prevent dry skin that may cause discomfort and itchiness. Kyte BABY is my favorite brand for this, designed of the softest bamboo. Their products are made to be breathable and prevent eczema that may cause itchiness. The material is also hypoallergenic and free of harmful pesticides or materials.
- Swaddles: Swaddling your baby can help your baby rest better and feel more secure. Read everything you need to know about swaddling here!
The newborn stage is beautiful, but it's also incredibly challenging. Always remind yourself that there was nothing you did that caused the colic, and there really isn’t anything you could have done to prevent it. In all the challenging moments, it's important to remember that it will pass. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel--even when we can’t see it quite yet. In the meantime, do what you can to find joy in each day, and to care for yourself. Because YOU matter too.
For more parenting tips and tricks, check out our blog at babycubby.com