Pretty much all new parents will experience the torture of sleep deprivation! In general, babies cry a lot and it's unlikely that you were surprised by this when you welcomed your new baby into the world. Sleep may seem like a distant memory for quite a few months when you have a colicky baby.
What is Colic?
When your baby seems perfectly healthy, has no obvious signs of distress and yet cries continually, they may be suffering from colic. Colic means prolonged bouts of excessive, frequent crying for no apparent reason, although some abdominal discomfort is thought to accompany it due to the way many babies draw their knees up when they cry which would indicate trapped gas. These episodes can be very distressing for both baby and parent, and can last for several weeks.
Does my baby have colic?
Every baby cries and fusses at times. Colic is defined as sobbing for more than three hours per day on more than three days per week. Crying is frequently followed with burping and other indicators of gas, which could be due to the baby swallowing air when they cry.
If your baby is eating and growing normally, has no vomiting or diarrhea, and has a pattern of extended weeping in the evening (rather than all day), it is most likely colic.
Colic commonly begins at 3 weeks of age, with extended spells of weeping in the evening between 6pm. and midnight. Long sobbing periods typically finish when the baby is about 3 months old, while some newborns continue to wail until they are 6 months old.
What Causes Colic?
There are plenty of theories on what causes colic in a baby and why a colicky baby won’t sleep, but the exact cause still remains a mystery. No one has been able to define exactly why a baby gets colic. Some of the theories of colic in babies include:
- Reflux: Infant GERD can trigger colic.
- Food allergies or sensitivity: Food sensitivities from a mother’s diet can be painful to your baby and cause colic symptoms if breastfeeding. Foods like cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts, dairy, and fish can be especially problematic. Babies who are formula-fed can also have difficulty processing certain formulas.
- Tobacco exposure: Smoking during or after birth increases the chance of a colicky baby.
- Sensory overload: The world is all new to our babies. Some are able to handle this new sensory experience better than others.
Coping with a Colicky Baby
Colic may be more damaging to parents who are frightened and frustrated than it is to babies. A colicky baby cries more than three hours per day, three days per week.
Colic affects one in every twenty babies at some point throughout their early childhood. However, no matter how difficult it is to manage with a continually crying baby, colic is a harmless illness as long as a medical ailment has been ruled out by your pediatrician.
How Can I Help Soothe My Colicky Baby?
If you’ve tried switching formulas, changing your diet, and ruling out other medical conditions with your doctor, and are still left with an inconsolable baby, getting your baby with colic to sleep can seem impossible. You’re both probably desperate for a little rest during the day and night and would give anything to make it happen!
So what can you do to help? Here are some of our top tips…
Soothe your newborn
Colicky babies adore being kissed and soothed. Start with step #1 below and gradually add the following steps until your baby has calmed down. Here are some suggestions from Dr. Harvey Karp:
Swaddle: Swaddling is an age-old tradition for keeping fussy babies nice and calm. Try laying your baby face-up on a flat surface and wrapping them in a thin blanket while carefully tucking in their limbs. Be sure not to swaddle your baby too tight and make sure that the atmosphere is nice and cool so they do not overheat. A good time to try swaddling your baby is during feedings if they have trouble settling down. If this practice is new to you and you’re a little unsure about how to swaddle your baby safely and securely, check out our step by step guide on how to swaddle a baby.
Shushing: Making a light “shhh” sound, or even the white noise provided by vacuum cleaners and hair dryers has been known to calm down a colicky baby.
Side/Stomach Hold: Instead of the typical cradle position, hold your little one on their side, or face down.
Swinging: Using your body to sway a baby with colic from side to side can work wonders.
Sucking: Offer a pacifier or thumb to soothe your baby via oral stimulation.
Watch how long your newborn is awake for
The maximum amount of time a newborn can stay awake between sleeps is 60-90 minutes. This means you’ve got about 45 minutes to feed your baby, and another 30-45 minutes (if that) to change their diaper, their clothes (if necessary) and play before it’s time for another nap. Keep in mind that depending on the duration of the previous nap, babies with colic are only able to last 40-60 minutes between naps.
Naps during the day
A baby with colic who is between the ages of 0 and 3 months old can take 4-6 naps per day, with about 10 hours of sleep at night and 5 hours during the day. Allowing your baby to nap during the day will improve their chances of getting a more restful night's sleep and will make it easier to put them to bed without as much of a fuss. Make sure that the sleeping environment is dark, has white noise, and is free of dangerous materials. Use the calming tips above, feed your baby after their nap, rather than just before, and create an Eat-Play-Sleep routine.
Reduce Evening Stimulation
Most children, including babies without colic, experience the Witching Hour after 5 p.m. At the slightest provocation, babies will become overstimulated, causing more distress than normal. To help combat this, avoid having the television on, dim the lights, and make sure the room you're in isn't too noisy or stimulating. Visitors should be limited during this period, and should be encouraged to visit in the morning when your baby is more rested.
Routines & Bedtime
We can give babies social signals as early as 6-8 weeks old to help them understand what's "coming next," such as bath time, relaxing massage, and a feed in their bedroom, which can all indicate that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
Most parents are surprised that it is recommended newborns go to bed between 10 and 11 p.m but your baby is more likely to sleep for 4-6 hours at a time if you stick to this routine. Be sure to provide an evening nap to bridge the gap before bedtime. Colicky babies tend to settle better if their crib is elevated to 30 degrees or if they’re kept semi-upright and swaddled / wrapped. Feeding your colicky baby after naps rather than before will reduce the chances of any tummy upsets at sleep time.
Remember that most babies will outgrow colic by around three months of age. When you're struggling, this seems like such a long time, but it won't last forever!
Look into products that can help with colic
Naturally, when your baby is upset and crying you want to hold them in your arms to soothe them, and while this is very beneficial, it’s not a very practical solution if you are required to do it for several hours at a time.
The babocush helps prevent colic by holding your baby securely just like you do on their tummy, and has the extra comfort of a gentle vibration and heartbeat sound for added relaxation. This means your baby can be strapped securely and comfortably into their babocush cushion and it feels just as though you are holding them. This gives you the chance to catch your breath as well as them, as colic is exhausting for both parent and baby. When you can look after yourself, you’ll do the best job as a parent.
See the babocush in action with baby Riley who suffered terribly with colic.
Take care of yourself, too!
When your baby cries for no apparent reason and isn't easily calmed, it can be distressing. Your newborn needs you to be calm as well, which might be difficult if you are exhausted.
If you find yourself becoming tight or furious when your baby is crying, try deep breathing to help yourself relax. If it isn't enough, put your infant in a safe area and leave the room for 10 or 15 minutes. Lie down, listen to soothing music, complete a home job, or take other measures to relax. Return to pick up your baby when you're ready.
Ask friends or family members to relieve you so you may go for a walk outside, nap, or have some alone time. Taking care of oneself is not selfish. Restoring your capacity to remain calm may be the most beneficial thing you can do for your baby.