What is Colic? Strategies for Calming a Screaming Baby
Newborn babies have a lot to process. Everything’s new, so they have very few strategies in place when it comes to coping with issues like hunger, discomfort, pain, stress, and other unknown stimuli.
So, they cry.
This is when we as parents spring to attention. In doing so, we strive to comfort our babies through regular feedings, diaper changes, swaddling, naps, and cuddles. We do this to help calm and reassure them that everything is going to be alright.
Sometimes, these strategies work like a charm. Just as often (it seems), they don’t.
For about 1 in 5 babies, the crying can be so frequent and intense, and with such little relief, it can start to feel to parents like something’s wrong. In cases where the baby may be experiencing colic besides the extreme fussiness, the baby seems otherwise healthy.
What is Colic?
Colic is defined as frequent, prolonged, intense, and inconsolable crying or fussiness in an infant for no apparent medical reason. The crying can occur several hours a day, often peaking in the evening hours when parents are most tired.
Infants who experience colic often start to do so about three to six weeks into life, with most cases subsiding around the three- or four-month mark. More severe cases of colic, however, can last to six months or more.
Since crying is so normal with babies, the line between a fussy baby and a colicky baby can be challenging to establish. Some signs your baby may be colicky include:
- Intense crying that borders on screaming and expressions of pain
- Continued and extreme fussiness even after the crying has stopped
- Crying and crabbiness may often interrupt feeding and sleep
- The timing of the most intense bouts of crying is seemingly predictable based on the time of day
- Crying is accompanied by lots of bodily tension, such as stiff legs and arms, an arched back, clenched fists, etc.
The causes of colic are largely unknown, but many have speculated it could be a number of things: a digestive system that’s still developing, a sensitivity to breast milk or formula, and even an overstimulating and stressful home environment.
Regardless of the cause, colic isn’t pretty. It can cause a lot of worry and stress, not to mention the sleepless nights, with parents.
However, the thing to keep in mind is that colic is temporary, and experts say it has no long-term effects on a baby’s health, growth, and development.
What Can I Do About Colic?
When your baby starts to show signs of colic, it’s never a bad idea to check in with your pediatrician before making an assumed diagnosis.
Excessive and uncontrollable crying can be a sign of several issues, sometimes it can include injury and illness, so don’t be afraid of being that “overactive parent.” Bring your baby into Rainbow Pediatrics, and we’ll give her or him a thorough check-up to make sure they aren’t alerting you to something we can identify and treat.
If we determine your baby is likely colicky, we will offer a few strategies to help calm them and perhaps ease any stress or discomfort. Plus, provide needed support to you, as parents. Strategies may include:
Soothing Colicky Babies
Through trial and error, strive to identify a soothing strategy or two that helps put your baby at ease. These can include holding, rocking, and swaddling your baby. Use a pacifier, try bathing her in a warm bath, or gently rubbing her back or tummy. Dimming the lights and playing soft music or white noise may also help reduce the stimulation that may be causing distress.
Feeding Colicky Babies
Some have suggested that overfeeding or not burping a baby enough during feedings can cause abdominal discomfort that may contribute to colic. Discuss with your pediatrician what the proper feeding schedule is for your baby as it changes as they grow. Consider feeding your baby in an upright position using a curved, collapsible bag bottle to reduce air intake. And burp your baby frequently during feedings.
Dietary Changes for Colicky Babies
If your baby has food allergies, a dietary change for the baby and the mother (if nursing) could help relieve some distress. Moving from formula to breast milk or vice versa may help with the baby’s irritability. Or, if you’re nursing, experiment with cutting out certain foods from your diet which are known allergens (i.e., dairy, eggs, wheat, nuts, etc.).
Self Care for Colicky Babies
There will always be times when there’s not much you can do for your baby except take care of yourself. Doing what you can to remain calm, alert, and positive through difficult bouts can translate to a calmer baby. Take turns with your spouse, partner, and even supportive friends and family members so that everyone gets a bit of a break from the baby. Eat well, get as much sleep as you can, and know that it’s OK to be frustrated. Colic is only temporary!
If you have concerns about your baby’s crying and irritability and want to have your baby checked out by a pediatrician or have questions about ways to relieve your baby’s discomfort during bouts with colic, we would love to help.
Just call the Rainbow Pediatrics office today at 910-486-5437 to schedule an appointment with one of our providers.