There is no conclusive reason why babies have colic and what its treatment is. The only way we can soothe or put a colicky baby to sleep is through different methods of trial and error. After a lot of experimenting and trying out, these are a few methods that doctors and most parents swear by, and they are the 5’s method- swaddling, shushing, swinging, sucking, and side or stomach hold positions. Some other techniques also include shifting their positions or trying anti-colic medications prescribed by the pediatrician. You’ll need to hold on for only a little while as colic symptoms usually go away by 3 months.
You finally brought your newborn home, and while staring at his calm, soothing breaths, little did you know that right after a few days, your child is going to turn into an ear-shattering wailing machine.
Writing this article is my little way of telling you what colic is, what happens when your baby is colicky, the major mistakes and myths I thought about colic, and the tips that helped me soothe and put my colicky son to sleep that changed my life.
Being a first-time mom, you read a lot about pregnancy, about the delivery, what to pack for the hospital bag, what you need to do for the stretch marks, the exercises you should follow to be fit during pregnancy, and such.
Although being educated about all the above is crucial, many of us forget about life after birth- the Fourth trimester.
Not many pregnancy books address issues after birth, nor do people warn you about life after giving birth. Sure, people tell us about the sleepless nights, but nobody prepares us for the storm that leads to these sleepless nights.
As moms, we are biologically built on listening to every cue of our babies, and that’s the reason why we fall asleep while watching our baby sleep or wake up right when our newborn starts stirring, ready to wake up.
So, when this baby continuously cries every day for hours, it breaks our hearts and makes us think we are doing something wrong.
For days, when my son used to cry for hours even after feeding him, the thought was put in my head that I didn’t have enough milk for my breastfeeding son, and the relentless crying was due to hunger. The thought of starving my kid broke my heart, and I resorted to giving him formula, but did that help?
The sight of my son gulping down the milk only made me think that maybe he was hungry, but only if I had educated myself a little more, I would’ve known that the reason he drank all that milk was that it was the action of “sucking” that gave him relief, not the milk because he did spit out almost everything due to overfeeding.
So, my dear fellow moms, before you jump to conclusions and take decisions accordingly, consult the pediatrician first, or someone with experience, to help and guide you through tough times. Do your research and understand why babies tend to behave in a particular manner?
What is colic?
Colic has no particular definition. No science backs up why babies have colic and what is the cure for it.
Doctors generally follow the 3-3-3 rule. i.e., if your baby cries for more than 3 hours a day, for more than 3 days a week, and 3 weeks consecutively, then your baby has colic.
Colic symptoms are seen around the 2nd to 3rd week of the baby’s life and peak around 6 – 8 weeks.
Unlike the usual infant crying, which can be soothed by burping, changing their diapers, feeding them, or bathing them, these attempts are futile while soothing a colicky baby. These symptoms usually fade away when the baby is around 3 – 4 months of age.
The main misconception around colicky babies is that they’re not healthy, which is false. Colicky babies are generally healthy babies but are persistently crying without any precise reason or cause.
We need to understand that crying is the only method of communication for them at that tender age. So, even if something is troubling them, they’ll only let us know through crying.
Some believe that babies are born 3 months before being fully ready for the world. So, frequently they’re overstimulated by the outside world, which can cause their persistent crying.
I think that babies are most comfortable with the familiar sounds that they heard and felt in the mother’s womb. They used to hear blood flow 24/7 and are used to your voice, outside noises.
So when you try to put a baby in a pitched-dark room with absolutely no sound, it’s sensory-depriving for them, which can lead them to cry, and it’s only when you create a womb-like atmosphere for them is when they are at ease.
Differentiating between normal crying and being colicky
The main difference between normal crying and colicky babies is that colicky babies usually cry around the same time every day, and no matter what you do, they’re not pacified easily.
On the other hand, normal crying can be for any reason like a need for a diaper change, hunger, sleepy, wanting to be held, or need to burp.
Colicky babies cry in spells, and during this time, they…
- Cry incessantly in a high-pitched manner,
- Can have a red face or have pale skin around the mouth
- Can’t be soothed easily
- May clench fists tightly, arch their back, and stiffen their arms while crying.
How to put a colicky baby to sleep
On top of being exhausted and frustrated, you may feel quite guilty and inadequate of being able to soothe your crying baby, but be assured, this soon shall pass.
Telling you to stay calm is easier said than done, trust me, I know, but I would still suggest you keep your calm, and if needed, place your baby in the bassinet, take a deep breath, and call someone to help in, while you take a few minutes for yourself.
Also, you need to understand that every baby is different. So, some babies may respond to many of these methods, while some may not respond at all, and some may only respond a few times to only a few techniques.
So, try not to overthink if things don’t work out. Your baby’s pediatrician is always a call away, and you can always ask for their help.
Steps 1 to 5 – Try the 5’s
This method is the most tried and tested out, and if done correctly, there is a 90% chance your baby will fall to sleep. The technique mainly focuses on mimicking a womb-like atmosphere for your baby, and it’s like a flip switch in their head, which immediately calms them down.
- Swaddling: Holding your baby won’t spoil them. Study shows that babies held 16 hours a day cried half than babies held for 8 hours a day. Your baby was held in a cozy place inside your womb 24/7. So, wrapping your baby in a tight-knit burrito may help them calm down and go to sleep. Make sure to keep their arms snuggled down against their sides, but leave their legs loose enough for them to move freely.
- Shushing: You may think your baby needs a quiet environment to sleep, but you cannot be more wrong. Inside your womb, your baby was exposed to all kinds of sounds. So, even though the sound of a vacuum cleaner or hairdryer might be too loud for you, but for babies, it mimics the sounds they heard inside the womb. Making the shh-shh-shh sound may also soothe them. You can also install a white noise machine in your baby’s room, which will help them to sleep faster.
- Swinging: Repeating the same movement over and over might make them fall asleep. Use your body to sway your baby to and fro gently. The repeated motion will calm the colicky baby and help them to fall asleep faster.
- Sucking: Some colicky babies might want to eat constantly, but that’s not because they’re hungry, but because sucking is soothing for them. Newborn babies have a sucking urge, and to satiate the urge, the pacifier is the best option. After being fed, if your baby still cries, then try offering a pacifier.
- Side/stomach lying: Newborn babies should NEVER be put to sleep on their stomach. For colicky babies, you can either lay them in a side or on their stomach on your hand or lap while supporting their head. You can lay them sideways on your hands while supporting their head, making the sh-sh-sh sound, and gently swinging your body.
Some colicky babies might go to sleep using one of the 5 methods, while for some, you might have to add in 2 or more methods together to calm them and make them asleep.
6. Use a carrier
Often, being snuggled on the mother’s chest and listening to the constant heartbeats of the mom can calm a colicky baby and put them to sleep.
Pace back and forth, do your chores while carrying your baby in the carrier, and put a white noise machine in the background, which might do the trick.
7. Talk to the pediatrician
If the above methods don’t seem to work, then talk to your child’s pediatrician to eliminate any other underlying cause for crying.
Discuss any medications that can be given to your baby if your baby’s crying is due to gas build-up in their stomach.
Take care of yourself
It’s very easy to get frustrated if your child continues to cry non-stop and you feel that there will be no end to this.
It’s crucial that you take a step back, call someone close to you for help, and take a breather to avoid shaken baby syndrome.
You should also see your GP if you’re experiencing any signs of postpartum depression. It’s important that you take care of yourself. Only then you’ll be fully capable of taking care of your baby.
Try not to blame yourself for your baby’s constant crying. Colic may still be a mystery today but remember that it’s not your fault in any way.
How do you burp a colicky baby?
You can position your baby’s head over your shoulder and gently thump them on their back.
Can colic become worse at night?
Although colic can happen at any time during the day, most babies experience colic late in the afternoon or night, and it usually happens the same time the next day.
Can a change in formula milk help my baby with colic?
If your baby doesn’t have any other issues and hasn’t been diagnosed with having milk allergy, then changing formula probably won’t help with subsiding colic symptoms.
Remember, healthy babies can have colic, and that colic is not a disease that can be treated with medication.
It’ll take time and a lot of patience to deal with, but know that by 3rd or 4th month of your baby’s life, the symptoms will subside down, and things will get easier.
Meanwhile, take a long and deep breath, and ask your partner’s or a relative’s help if things get too stressful for you.