Anyone who has tried to soothe their screaming baby in the middle of the night has most likely wondered whether their baby has colic.
What exactly is colic?
Colic is a general term that is used to describe a baby who has episodes of uncontrollable crying that lasts for more than 3 hours a day, crying at least three days a week, and having these crying symptoms for at least three weeks.
Of course, every baby cries, and there are a variety of reasons why a baby might be crying, such as hunger, discomfort, fatigue, overstimulation, boredom, pain or illness. But if your baby is otherwise healthy and well-fed and exhibits crying as described above (uncontrollable crying for more than 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, and for at least three weeks), then he or she might have infant colic.
What are the symptoms of colic?
Babies with colic cry loud and continuously for 1-3 hours at a time, usually with a bright red face, and legs jerking between bent up to stomach and out straight. Your baby's hands may be clenched, feet cold, and they will have difficulty falling and staying asleep. Colic babies also may lift their head or legs up to relieve gas or fill their diaper with poop, and sometimes refuse to feed or fuss during feedings. Usually parents of babies with colic say that they can just "tell" that their baby is uncomfortable and appears to be in pain.
When does colic occur?
Usually colic develops around three weeks after birth, gets worse around six weeks and then usually starts to get better around three to four months of age. It can occur day or night, but a bit more frequently in the late afternoon or evening.
What causes infant colic?
The cause of colic is unknown. In fact there are probably as many theories about what causes colic as there are parents suffering with a colicky baby!
One of the most popular theories is that your baby's digestive system is not fully developed, and colic is caused by an immature digestive system that has spasms. These spasms produce stomach discomfort for the baby and extended bouts of crying.
Another theory is that your baby's nervous system is not fully developed, and colic is caused by your baby tensing up in response to otherwise normal stimulation (such as lights, noises, jostling, etc).
Again, nobody really knows what causes colic. As more research is released, we will report on those findings here at Mommyhood101.
How can I treat my baby's colic?
Many parents find that what works for their baby does not work for a different baby, and may only work for a little while. To read about gripe water for the treatment of infant colic, click here.
There are some common themes in parents' stories about what works for their babies. These pieces of advice are:
1. If you are breastfeeding your baby, try removing certain things from the mother's diet. Some parents find that eliminating dairy from their diet works well, and other parents remove other foods such as onions, cabbage, cauliflower, spicy foods, caffeine, beans and other gas producing or acidic foods (such as tomato sauce). There are some really great resources for guidance on this, such as this book. Always check with your doctor before eliminating foods from your diet.
2. If you are bottle feeding your baby, try to make sure your baby is not getting a lot of air bubbles while eating. Hold the bottle upright enough to prevent air from entering the nipple area. Try using a curved or angled bottle, or some of the new bottles that have unique venting systems.
3. After feeding your baby, be sure to burp them over your shoulder or on your knee until they release some gas.
4. Do not feed your baby simply because he or she is crying. Stick to a schedule. Colic can worsen from excessive feeding.
5. Try to reduce stimulation for your baby, such as bright lights, noisy areas, lots of people around, and even other crying babies!
6. Try taking your baby for a walk in the stroller (see our Best Baby Strollers here!) or a drive in the car. Sometimes this helps soothe their cries.
7. Give your baby a warm relaxing bath, rock them gently on a rocking chair, and otherwise try to create a peaceful soothing environment.
8. Try giving your baby a gently tummy massage. There are some great baby massage oils out there to help calm your baby down and reduce friction.
9. Be patient! Colic goes away as your baby gets older. The first few months with a colicky baby can be very stressful for a new family, so try your best to take it easy and be patient. Time will help your baby.