When your baby has colic, they will cry for hours on end and it’s very hard to calm them down. What are the signs and symptoms of colic? And, how can you help a colicky baby sleep? This post will tell you all you need to know based on my 15+ years of experience.
What is Colic?
Colic is a fairly predictable time of day when your baby will cry for long periods of time. Some babies will cry for an hour or two but other babies can cry for multiple hours. My friend’s baby cried for 5-6 hours every day!
The most challenging part about colic is that it’s impossible to soothe the baby and stop the crying. When a colicky baby is crying, it comes on unexpectedly and for no apparent reason. You can’t simply change a diaper, for example.
The word ‘colic’ is used to label a healthy baby who cries for long periods of time every day for weeks on end. There has been a movement to share with parents and caregivers that all babies will go through a period of increasing crying. It’s just that some babies have much more of it (and labeled with colic) and other babies have much less of it (not labeled as colicky). It is called The Period of PURPLE Crying.
Diagnosing a baby with colic implies that some babies have it and others don’t. However, according to Dr. Ronald Barr, a Developmental Pediatrician and World Expert on Infant Crying, all babies go through this period, and some simply easier than others. Those who do not get labeled with colic simply have newborn evening fussiness.
Colic Signs and Symptoms for Baby
The most common signs and symptoms of colic include the following:
- Baby cries for a long period of time (2-3 hours or more).
- The crying is predictable every day. For example, your baby cries for 3 hours from ~7:00 to ~10:00 p.m. every night.
- Crying is usually in the evening.
- Baby looks like they are in pain when they are crying.
- Soothing doesn’t seem to help.
What Causes Colic?
Nothing causes colic so much as all babies will have this period of a gradual increase of crying until it peaks. This is a developmental period and a phase that will pass, eventually. The crying starts spontaneously every day and then stops just as quickly as it started.
This time period can be very frustrating and you might doubt yourself as a parent. But, this is not a reflection on your parenting skills and there are no long-lasting effects from all of the crying.
There are some theories that a baby can get overstimulated adjusting to the outside world but there has been no definitive cause as to why some babies have longer periods of crying than others.
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When Does Colic Start?
Colic for your baby starts around 2 weeks old. Crying will gradually increase over the next days/weeks until it peaks. At what age the crying peaks varies from baby to baby. For some babies, it will peak at 3 weeks while others can still cry for hours each day until 2 to 3 months old.
When Does Colic End? How Long Does Colic Last?
Thankfully, colic will end, eventually, even though it may feel like an eternity!
Once your baby’s colic peaks, the crying will gradually reduce over a period of days/weeks and end by 3 to 4 months old. Therefore, colic lasts 1 to 12 weeks and it’s impossible to know how long your baby will have it.
We do know, however, that there is often a 6 week peak of fussiness. After this, many babies will gradually fuss and cry less over the next few weeks. For my son, this was exactly true and he was much less fussy by 8 to 10 weeks old!
How Do You Know Baby Is Not Sick?
When your baby has colic, there is a pattern of crying meaning it happens every day at the relatively same time of day. Since this pattern of crying will last weeks or months, your doctor will rule out health issues and diagnose your baby with colic.
If your baby is sick, there will probably be other things going on such as diarrhea, vomiting, fever, weight loss, not feeding, etc.
Because you won’t know if your baby is showing a pattern of crying from colic for a number of weeks, it is very important to have your doctor do tests and examine your baby just in case it is a medical condition. Your doctor needs to rule out other reasons for the crying first and foremost.
Colic Remedies: How to Soothe a Baby with Colic?
Unfortunately, the definition of colic includes precisely that your baby is crying for long periods of time and cannot be soothed. I’m going to be honest here. Therefore, the ways you soothe a baby with colic will not likely be very successful. However, few parents can sit back and do nothing while their baby is crying.
As usual, I recommend you make a plan for how you will handle your newborn every day when the crying starts.
If you have help, I highly recommend you take turns, too. For example, if you know your baby will cry for 3 hours beginning around 6:30 p.m. every day, you can plan to let your spouse go for a walk or take a bath in another part of the house for the first 30-60 minutes while you take the first shift. During the second hour, you can switch places.
If you don’t have help, you can plan to try soothing the baby for 30 minutes, use a swing for 30 minutes, put on headphones for 30 minutes while walking the baby around the kitchen, and so on. If you know what you will do every day, you can reduce some of the frustration that comes with expecting you’ll be able to stop the crying. Accept the baby will cry and simply follow your “protocol” to get through it.
But, what about the baby? How can you soothe the baby? Here are a few things you can try:
- Use a Swing
- Turn off the TV and other noise in the house
- Dim the lights
- Try Gripe Water or Colic Calm
Don’t feel bad taking a break!
Obviously, some parents get very frustrated hearing their baby cry for such long periods of time every day. This is understandable! It’s always best to take a break rather than possibly hurt your baby. Put your baby down in a safe place in another room for 10 to 15 minutes if you need a break. It won’t hurt the baby and you can regroup. After all, your senses can get overstimulated, too!
5 Tips to Help Your Colic Baby Sleep Better
If there’s any chance that over-stimulation increases colic, it will help you and your baby to help them sleep better. No, we can’t get rid of all crying nor can we “fix” colic but helping your baby sleep better will recharge you during the day. If you’re lucky, you can nap during the day so you have more patience in the evening.
Here are 5 tips to help your newborn sleep better:
- Swaddle Your Baby – The benefits of swaddling are clear and can help calm a fussy baby. Be sure to swaddle the correct way for maximum positive impact.
- Use White Noise – Using white noise can help your baby drown out noises in the house. If your baby is easily over-stimulated, this should help calm them. The volume should be about that of a shower running so you may need to turn it up.
- Wear Your Baby – Using a baby wrap and simulating your newborn back in the womb can do wonders. Make sure you check the weight for the wrap you use so it’s safe. Many babies will snooze in a sling or wrap.
- Don’t keep your baby awake too long – The easiest way to over-stimulate the baby is to keep them awake too long. Babies are taking in so much around them. Therefore, many babies can only stay awake for 45-60 minutes at a time until they are older. Be sure to use an appropriate newborn schedule by week.
- Offer Skin-to-Skin Contact – The benefits of skin-to-skin contact are plentiful but the biggest benefit for the purposes of soothing a baby with colic is to help regulate their heart and breathing with yours. Kangaroo Care has been shown to have many benefits for your baby and for you. And, the best part is that any caretaker can do it!
I hope this article has helped you understand colic better and, most importantly, helped you feel less alone. And, I hope that you now know that this is not a reflection on your parenting skills. It’s simply a test of your patience.
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