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Infant Colic: What to do if Your Baby is Constantly Crying

When your baby is crying, you want to do everything possible to soothe them. But what happens when nothing works and they’re screaming for hours on end with no reprieve? You might have a case of colic on your hands.

A baby crying with a  desperate mother
A baby constantly crying is a very distressing experience

What is Infant Colic?

The only way newborn babies can communicate is through crying. Those little wails let you know that they’re hungry or they have dirty diapers. However, when it seems like they’re crying for no apparent reason, it might signal colic.

Colic is not an official diagnosis, and it doesn't have an actual definition – it is simply a word used to describe excessive crying in an otherwise healthy baby.

Doctors typically classify colic based on the “rules of three.” This means that your baby cries for at least three hours a day, at least three days a week, for three weeks (or more) in a row.

For some reason, colic seems to be worst in the nighttime hours, meaning you can add exhaustion to the worry and angst you’re already experiencing. Despite your best efforts, babies with colic are extremely difficult to calm, but there are soothing techniques that can provide mild relief until this phase passes.

How do You Deal with a Colicky Baby?

Colic can be frustrating to deal with, because you as a new parent, are also dealing with your own emotions. You just brought your tiny bundle home, and now you might be fearful that something is wrong or be dealing with feelings of failure when you can’t even soothe your crying baby.

You’re not doing anything wrong. Colic occurs in about 1 in 5 infants, so it is common, and there are a few strategies that might just help your baby get through it (and you too).

The most important thing is to keep a calm demeanour about yourself when you're working through these soothing strategies.

Quick calming remedies to try with your baby

Your baby just spent nine months protected inside the womb, and they might be craving a little bit of that comfort and security again. Offer your baby as much snuggling as they need by cuddling with them or even try babywearing so you can still move around. A simple baby wrap can keep them warm and bundled up, offering that feeling of closeness that they need.

A swaddle can also give them the comfort that they may be crying for. Here’s a pro tip: warm up your swaddle in the dryer before wrapping up your baby, so they get that extra feeling of warmth that might just be the thing that calms their cries.

Certain noises can also calm your colicky baby. A white noise machine can mimic the sounds they heard inside the womb, or soothing music like a soft lullaby can help them calm down. You can also try using household items like the whir of a fan, a vacuum cleaner, or the dryer running to do the trick. Since every baby is different, you may need to try several different sounds to find the one that your baby enjoys. The noise shouldn’t be too loud though, otherwise, it might cause damage to the delicate ears of your baby. The white noise indeed shouldn’t exceed the 50 dB (which is approximately the level of noise a refrigerator makes or 2 people chatting) and the baby should be 6-7 feet away from the source of the noise.

Sucking is soothing for babies, so if your little one appears hungry all the time, they may simply want something to suck on. Offer a pacifier to satisfy this need for sucking but be sure your baby is still getting enough to eat. Your paediatrician or a lactation consultant, if you're breastfeeding, can help you make sure your baby is eating enough for their age.

Get moving. Swaying, rocking, and swinging can help to soothe a baby with colic. Even a change of scenery, like going to a local park or just sitting on your balcony, can be a peaceful place for them to ease their crying spell. Taking your baby for a walk in the stroller or carrier combines both strategies, so if the weather is nice, get out for a neighbourhood stroll.

While crying from colic cannot be attributed to one specific thing, you might notice that certain things make the crying worse. Here’s what to do if you have an idea of why your baby cannot be consoled.

Do you think your baby is overstimulated?

Try your best to create a peaceful environment to help your baby relax. This new, big world is exciting yet terrifying for them, so try to keep noise, distractions, and big groups of visitors to a minimum (especially in the late afternoon or early evening hours).

Keep an eye on your baby and respond to their cues. If a particular toy, noise, or other stimuli upset them, try to limit their exposure. When they're having a crying fit, you may be tempted to sing, dance, and do various other things to distract them, but this may inadvertently overstimulate their senses. Instead, try to speak in a soothing voice (or don’t speak at all) and keep music or other noises to a minimum.

Do you think your baby is having gastrointestinal issues?

A newborn baby’s digestive system is immature, and they are still learning how to release air bubbles, or gas, from their system. If you think they’re crying because of possible GI issues, here are a few things to try.

Apply pressure to your baby’s tummy. You can do this by holding them facing you with their tummy on your shoulder or by placing them face-down along the length of your arm with their tummy on your forearm. Rubbing or patting their back can also help those air bubbles work their way out. Another remedy is to lay them on their backs and move their legs like riding a bicycle. This can also help relieve any pressure from the gas.

Gas drops or probiotics can help ease tummy troubles but always be sure to consult your paediatrician first to ensure they’re necessary and that you’re administering them properly.

If you’re breastfeeding: you can try eliminating foods that cause gas (veggies like cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) or allergenic foods (dairy, wheat, nuts, etc.) to see if that helps relieve your little one’s upset tummy. It's important to note that there is no reason to stop breastfeeding just because your infant has colic.

If you’re feeding formula: consider switching formulas to a gentler type made for sensitive stomachs, or you can try one that doesn't contain cow's milk. Check with your paediatrician before making a switch, and be sure to give it several days before switching again.

If you have a baby with colic, you’re probably desperate to make the crying stop, but only try one calming remedy at a time so you don’t completely overload your baby’s senses. Try one for a few days and move on to the next one if it doesn't work. That way, you can pinpoint exactly which one works for your baby's needs.

Want a quick way to remember some of the most effective strategies? Just remember the 5 ‘S’s: swaddling, shushing, stomach position, swinging, and sucking.

What’s the Difference Between Colic and Regular Crying?

Babies will always be babies, so a certain level of crying is expected. You might be wondering when the crying crosses the line from typical baby cries to infant colic.

This can be a difficult question to answer because colic does not have any real symptoms, but doctors often agree that when babies with a colic cry, it sounds more like screaming – louder, more intense, and a higher pitch.

If your baby has colic, their crying might be inconsolable and will likely repeat itself day after day, making you feel like it lasts forever.

When to Call the Doctor?

Since babies with colic cry so intensely and nothing seems to help, it may seem like something is wrong or your baby is crying out in pain. If you’re concerned about your baby’s crying, a visit to the paediatrician’s office might help you understand the underlying reason behind the crying (or if it is colic).

The doctor can help you rule out any medical concerns regarding excessive crying, and they could even help you identify ways to soothe your little one.

Is There an End to the Crying?

Colic, like many other things at the beginning of a baby's life, is just a phase and one that your baby will grow out of. It’s important to understand ad remind yourself that this won’t last forever – this reminder might even help you deal with the stress of caring for a baby with colic.

In most babies, colic reaches its peak around six weeks of age and tapers off by the time the baby is about 10-12 weeks old. After a baby is three months old, nearly all cases of colic magically stop. This could be because the baby's digestive system is maturing or because they can cope with stimulation better than in those first few weeks.

Whatever the reason, just remember that there is an end in sight.

What is the Cause of Colic?

Nobody truly knows what causes colic, and, by definition, it's a catchall term for unidentified excessive crying in babies.

Experts have found that colic is not a result of genetics or anything that occurred during pregnancy, and it is not a reflection of parenting skills. However, there are a few things that could be causing infant colic:

· Overstimulated senses

· Immature digestive system

· Infant acid reflux

· Food allergies or sensitivity

· Tobacco exposure

If you are concerned about potential allergies or reflux, put in a call to your paediatrician to discuss alleviating the symptoms.

Is the Crying Taking a Toll on You? Here Are Some Ways to Cope

It’s your instinct to respond to a baby’s cries, and when they cannot be consoled, it takes a physical and emotional toll. Since colic is not a medical diagnosis, it’s important to remember that this crying does not harm the baby. In fact, it’s probably more traumatic for you than it is for them. That’s why it’s so important to take care of yourself and ensure you can give the best care to your child.

Continue to practice regular self-care. Taking time each day to do things that bring you joy allows you to press the reset button and have the energy and patience needed to soothe your colicky baby. If you enjoy taking a bath or reading, take the time (even if it's just 5-10 minutes) to do those things daily.

Work with your partner or others helping you with childcare to switch off during particularly challenging times of the day. Colic is known to be at its worst late in the evening and during the night, so establish a schedule so that you don't have to be "on" all the time when the baby is inconsolable.

If you're having difficulty managing your mental health while dealing with a colicky baby, never be ashamed to reach out for help. NHS UK has numerous resources along with a number you can call seven days a week if you need extra support.

If you need help right away, call the Cry-sis helpline on 0845 122 8669 (9 am to 10 pm, 7 days a week).

Always remember that colic is just a phase, and in several (not so short) weeks, your baby will have outgrown this difficult stage.

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