Colic in Babies: Causes & Remedies

Colic is a word often associated with newborns and babies. You may have heard that a colicky baby is fussy or has difficulty sleeping, but what exactly is colic, and, more importantly, how do you know if your baby has it?

A crying baby indicates something is wrong, and when the crying seems to go on forever, it creates stress for your baby and you. If you’ve taken care of all their needs, feeding, diaper change, change of environment, nap, and the crying persists, you may have a colicky baby on your hands. 

This article explains colic and provides tips on soothing colicky babies to ease their discomfort so both of you can feel better!

What Is Colic?

Colic is defined as frequent, prolonged, and intense crying or fussiness in a healthy infant. Doctors will typically diagnose colic if the following three symptoms are present:

  • Your baby cries for at least three hours a day
  • Crying episodes happen at least three times a week
  • The crying persists for a minimum of three weeks

Additional symptoms of colic may include:

  • Extreme fussiness when not crying
  • Facial blushing or flushing
  • Body tension, pulling their legs in, clenched fists, stiffened arms, etc.
  • Predictable timing to the crying
  • Intense crying or screaming that seems like they are in pain

If you suspect your baby has colic keep a journal of when they cry and how long each session lasts. 

Colic occurs in one out of every five babies, and it usually peaks around 6-weeks old. Colic typically begins to decline steeply after 3 to 4 months old. Colicky periods often happen in the late afternoon and evening and can carry on through the night. However, a bout of colic can happen any time of day. 

Even though a doctor may diagnose your baby with colic, colic is not a disease or illness; rather, it explains why your baby is crying as often as they are. Unfortunately, the fact that it is not an illness means there is no “cure,” and parents often have to develop coping mechanisms to pass the time. The upside is that colic does not indicate anything seriously wrong with your baby, but it is frustrating and stressful nonetheless. 

Possible Causes of Colic

Although doctors have yet to pinpoint the exact causes of colic, some factors could contribute.

  • Overstimulation – Overstimulation can wreak havoc on a baby’s senses. As newborns try to understand the world around them, they are constantly inundated with new sounds, smells, textures, and sights. Consider the space your baby is in and if they need a quieter, less busy spot.
  • Stress or anxiety – Babies pick up stress and anxiety from the adults around them. If you are stressed, they will be too. Avoid having arguments in earshot of your baby; if you are stressed, take a break. There is nothing wrong with laying a colicky baby in a safe spot like their crib and going to another room for 5 or 10 minutes to clear your head. 
  • Child migraines – While rare in infants, your baby may be suffering from child migraines. Child migraines affect less than 3% of infants.
  • Digestive issues or allergies – Food sensitivities, allergies, or an underdeveloped digestive system could contribute to colic. If your baby’s crying bouts typically happen within an hour of eating, tummy troubles may be the cause. 
  • Mothers who smoke during pregnancy – Research has shown a correlation between mothers who smoke and babies with colic. If you are a smoker, you should quit before becoming pregnant. 

Tips to Soothe a Colicky Baby

The first step in attempting to soothe colic is discovering the cause. If you are able to identify one of the possible causes above, you may be able to calm your baby faster. If not, there are several tricks you can try.

  • Change their environment and create calm – Change their environment like going for a walk outside or switching rooms. Limit the number of noises and distractions in your home. For example, turn off background noise like the TV and limit the number of visitors. 
  • Comfort them – Comfort your baby by holding them, rocking them, talking, or singing to them. You don’t need to sing an actual song or have a great voice; the act of singing is hugely calming to babies. 
  • Give a baby massage and burp them – If you suspect gastrointestinal issues, give them a baby massage and apply gentle pressure on their belly. After a feeding, ensure your baby has burped twice. 
  • Change formulas or change your diet – If you notice colic episodes after eating, try a different formula, or if nursing, take a look at your diet. Certain foods mothers eat are known to cause gas in babies. 
  • Swaddle them – Newborns love being swaddled because it reminds them of the womb. You can use a blanket; you can find instructions online or purchase a pre-made swaddle.
  • Use white noise – White noise or a heartbeat machine will remind your baby of the safety of the womb. Use your phone to find a white noise app or turn on a fan.
  • Move around – Movement like walking or rocking can soothe your baby. It may also distract them from whatever is bothering them. 
  • Offer a pacifier – Pacifier use reduces the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and is soothing to babies. 

Tips to Keep You Calm

Taking care of a newborn is stressful; add colic to the mix, and it can feel overwhelming to some parents. However, it is essential to remember that all babies cry, and all babies will stress you out at some point. 

A crying baby is the number one contributing factor to the shaken baby syndrome. NEVER shake a baby to stop them from crying as it can cause brain injury and death. Instead, here are some things you can try.

  • Rule out illness – If you’ve taken their temperature and know they aren’t sick and have met all their basic needs, but the crying sessions continue, it’s time to visit the doctor. Their pediatrician will examine them and run additional tests to rule out any possibility of illness. 
  • Call a friend – Talk to someone when you feel stressed. For example, call your mom, sister, or best friend, or join an online parenting group. Talking relieves stress, and it helps you remember you are not alone. If needed, ask someone to come over so you can have a break out of the house for a short period. 
  • Take a break – Set your baby down in a safe space and take a break. You will not emotionally damage your baby by letting them cry for ten minutes so you can calm yourself down. Place them in their crib and go to another room. Put ear plugs in or play calming music. Do not leave the house unless another adult is home. Check on them after ten minutes to reassure them you are still there and, if needed, take a second break.
  • Listen to music and dance – Put on some music and dance with your baby. Dancing and music release endorphins that can calm you, and the movement and music may soothe your little one. Avoid loud, intense music and try jazz, classical, or folk music. 

Having a baby who seems to cry for no reason and is difficult to soothe is stressful. But remember, you are not the first parent to go through this, and there are tricks and tips to help both you and your baby. You can also take solace in the fact that colic doesn’t indicate a serious issue with your baby. When feeling stressed, try some calming tips above and remember this is only a phase that will eventually pass.

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