Is your baby’s crying normal or is it colic?

It can be physically and mentally exhausting when your infant won’t stop crying, especially when they have colic. 

It’s normal for newborn babies to be fussy and to cry in the evening hours. This behavior peaks around six weeks and slowly improves over the following weeks. There’s no reason to worry as long as the baby is more peaceful during the day and the fussy periods only last a few hours. 

For about one in five babies, however, they may have colic, where the crying may persist throughout the day or night and may be intense, especially in the evenings. Parents typically notice a change in their babies between two and four weeks old.  When a baby has colic, they may cry inconsolably, usually stretching or pulling up their legs, and passing gas. Their bellies may also be enlarged or distended with gas. 

Causes of colic

The exact cause of a baby’s colic can be difficult to identify. Often, the colic crying is a sign of an immature nervous system. Babies with colic have a difficult time regulating themselves, are more sensitive to stimulation, and can’t self soothe.

In breastfed babies, colic can be a sign of a food sensitivity. Mothers may notice an increase in fussiness or gassiness after eating certain foods. A baby’s discomfort may also be caused by a sensitivity to milk protein in formula. 

Finally, the baby’s colic crying can be a signal of a medical problem or an illness. 

How long does colic last?

First, we know this period in your child’s life is difficult, but it’s important to remind yourself that it is temporary. After beginning between two to four weeks, the colic crying can last until six months of age. For most babies, however, the more intense crying spells typically stops around three or four months. 

Tips for calming a baby with colic

When your baby is crying, there are several things you can try to help soothe or comfort them to help them through this colic period. Many of these methods can be used together and will often work best when combined.

  • Check the basics: Your first step should be making sure your baby is not hungry, hot or cold, has a dirty diaper, or has fever or other sickness. 
  • Move with Your Baby: Hold the baby in your arms or using a baby carrier. Then walk, bounce, rock, or sway with your baby. Your baby is used to motion from their time in the womb. This calming motion and your body’s warmth can be soothing.
  • Use white noise: Using a rhythmic calming sound, such as white-noise machine, fan, a vacuum in another room, or making a shushing sound can help calm your baby when they are colic crying. 
  • Offer a pacifier: Some babies may find relief from sucking on a pacifier (as long as they aren’t hungry). If your baby refuses a pacifier, you can try different shapes and styles, though some babies may reject any type. 
  • Tummy time: Lay your baby on their tummy across your forearm, across your knees, or on the floor. Rub their back to help relieve gas.
  • Give a tummy massage: If your baby’s discomfort is from gas, you can give them some relief by gently moving their legs as if they are bicycling. You may also try gently massaging their belly in an upside down “U” movement to move gas along. 
  • Swaddle: Most babies find comfort in being secure and warm. Using a large, thin blanket, swaddle your baby. Some babies prefer their arms tucked in while others prefer to have their arms free. Experiment to see which way your baby prefers. 
  • Avoid overfeeding your baby: Drinking too much milk can make your baby uncomfortable. Try to wait at least 2 to 2.5 hours from the beginning of one feed to the next. Some babies just want to suck for comfort. So, if you just fed your baby, and they seem to want more, try offering a pacifier. 
  • Troubleshoot breastfeeding: If you breastfeed, try eliminating foods from your diet that can cause gas or discomfort in babies. Some irritating foods include dairy products, caffeine, onions, and cabbage. Make note in any changes you see with the foods you eat.
  • Troubleshoot formula: If you suspect your child has a food sensitivity, you can talk to your pediatrician about switching formulas, such as switching to a protein hydrolysate formula. Once you’ve changed the formula, you should see a decrease in the colic within a few days if the formula was the cause of the colic. 

Ask for Help

It can be very difficult caring for a baby with colic, and it’s important to ask for help. Take turns with your partner holding the baby and trying the techniques above. Ask a family member or friend to look after the baby and take a break so you can get out of the house for an hour or two.

If you don’t have anyone to help you when your baby won’t stop crying, it’s okay to take a break for 10-15 minutes so you can calm down. Place your baby in a safe space, such as a crib or playpen, and leave the room. When you have calmed down, go back and pick up your baby. Remember that keeping your baby safe is the most important thing you can do, even if that means letting them cry. It is normal to feel frustrated or even angry, but it’s important to keep your behavior under control and never shake or physically harm your baby. 

Talk to Your Pediatrician

If you think your baby has colic, make sure you consult with your physician to make sure the crying is not related to any serious medical conditions. They also may be able to help provide some guidance for helping your baby through this period. 

If you are feeling depressed, anxious, angry, or out of control of your emotions, reach out to your provider for help. You can reach us at Pediatrics West at 720-284-3700. 

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