Crying is normal for newborns, but some newborns cry so often, and so inconsolably, that it seems to go beyond the standards of normal. In fact, the crying may be so intense and frequent that parents start to wonder if something is seriously wrong! These newborns will sometimes cry for hours on end, and their parents can’t do a thing to comfort them. Crying like this is typically called colic.
What Is Colic?
The term colic refers to extended periods of crying — three or more hours — that happen three or more times per week, during the first few months of life. Colic happens most often in the late afternoon and evening (although it can happen any time of the day.)
It’s estimated that about 20% of newborns suffer through colic — and their parents suffer with them! Moms and dads of colicky babies often feel completely overwhelmed by their newborns’ intense crying. And the fact that colicky babies are difficult (and sometimes even impossible) to soothe and comfort makes things even worse for mom and dad, since they feel powerless to fix the problem.
Unfortunately, there’s no real cause of colic. People have long thought that colic must be caused by digestive problems, like gas and reflux; however, researchers haven’t been able to define a single cause of colic, despite numerous studies.
If your newborn is colicky, rest assured that there’s nothing wrong with your little one. Doctors and medical researchers now believe that colicky crying is natural for some babies, and should be considered normal.
How to Soothe a Colicky Baby
There’s no cure for colic, but there are things you can try at home to comfort your colicky newborn. Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s can work – swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging, & sucking. Other things to try include:
- Baby wearing: Some parents find that the only way to soothe a colicky baby is to hold and rock the baby constantly. Unfortunately, we parents aren’t gifted with an extra arm or two after our babies are born, and so very few of us have time to actually do all that rocking and holding! Baby wearing offers a nice compromise. With baby tucked safely in a carrier, mom or dad can go about daily activities while still comforting baby.
Be aware that, in the past few years, baby wearing has come under scrutiny, with the Consumer Product Safety Commission issuing recommendations that advise parents to be cautions when using a baby sling with a baby under 4 months of age. What’s more, if your baby is premature, had a low birthweight, or is suffering from a respiratory illness (like a cold), you shouldn’t put your baby in a carrier or sling.
However, this does not mean that baby wearing is unsafe, or should be avoided; it just means that if you decide to wear your baby, you should take safety precautions. Use a carrier that keeps your newborn in an upright position, and that provides some head and neck support. When in the carrier, baby’s back should be supported and not in a curved position that could make breathing difficult. Her chin should be off of her chest, the carrier should be tight against your body, and your baby should be in sight at all times. Be aware of your baby’s breathing and airway, taking care to keep it clear. Wrap your baby in such a way that you are able to kiss the top of her head, as it rests close to your chin.
If you are unsure about which carrier or wrap is best for your newborn, check the product’s weight guidelines. This will give you a much better idea as to whether or not a particular wrap or carrier is designed for newborns. For instance, many wraps on the market today have a minimum weight requirement of 15 pounds, so these wraps would not be safe options for newborns. And of course, it is always a good idea to ask your baby’s healthcarer provider for guidance about baby wearing.
- Daily routine: Colicky babies can benefit greatly from a regular, daily routine. While it’s not appropriate to impose a by-the-clock schedule on a newborn, you can build predictable routines into your baby’s daily activities.
- Skin-to-skin contact: The best way to soothe an colicky newborn is skin-to-skin contact. Doctors and medical researchers support what moms around the world have known for centuries: when newborns are held skin-to-skin against their mothers, they tend to stop crying and calm down quickly.
What To Do When Nothing Works
It can be tough to soothe and comfort a colicky, intense baby. In fact, some colicky babies are impossible to comfort, even though their parents do everything right. You can imagine how frustrating and overwhelming this is for moms and dads. Or, you may not have to imagine it at all; you may be one of those frustrated and overwhelmed parents yourself! If that is the case, rest assured that what you are feeling is normal; you are not a ‘bad’ mom or dad if you can’t comfort your colicky baby, or if you feel angry (or depressed, or desperate, etc.) that your baby won’t stop crying.
If you can’t do a thing to comfort your colicky newborn, you may want to consider taking your baby to your healthcare provider for further evaluation. Persistent crying can sometimes be due to a medical condition (like a dairy allergy, for instance, or tongue tie).
If all medical reasons have been ruled out, it’s likely your baby’s colicky crying is due to her temperament. In this case, do the best you can to love and comfort your baby when she cries. And be sure to take care of yourself, too! If you sometimes need to put your wailing newborn in a safe place (like a crib or bassinet) for a few minutes and take a break in a quiet room, that’s perfectly fine. Or consider asking friends and family members for help – some breaks from your baby (and the peace and quiet that those breaks will provide) will ensure that you don’t lose your mind. 😉 And finally, take heart in knowing that most babies outgrow their colic by about 4 months of age.
Newborn Baby Sleep Help That Works
Need help encouraging your newborn to sleep better, and to sleep longer stretches at night and during the day? We have a great resource designed to do just that. Check out Essential Keys to Your Newborn’s Sleep, the latest e-Book from The Baby Sleep Site®. Available in PDF format as well as a variety of e-reader formats, Essential Keys to Your Newborn’s Sleep is the tired parents’ #1 newborn resource. Developed by Nicole and Miriam (a lactation consultant, nurse, and Baby Sleep Site® sleep consultant), Essential Keys lays out everything you need to know about helping your baby to sleep better right from the start. It also includes information on feeding (both breast and bottle), baby communication, bonding with baby, daily routines, sample sleep schedules, and more. Download your copy today!
Or, if you are interested in personalized, one-on-one help for your newborn, why not consider one of our personalized sleep consulting packages? Our consultations allow you to work directly with one of our expert sleep consultants, and to get a Personalized Sleep Plan® that will work for your family.
First, browse our extensive list of package options and select the one that looks best for your situation.
Browse our list of consultation package options here.
Once you make your choice and purchase, you will immediately receive an e-mail with your Helpdesk login information. You’ll be able to login and start your Family Sleep History form right away – it’s that simple!