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How to Soothe a Colicky Baby: Colic Relief Tips

Let’s face it, babies cry a lot. However, some cry much more than others and are fussy for what seems like no apparent reason. If this is you, as a parent, you maybe feel at the end of your rope! Is there anything you can do to soothe a colicky baby or prevent colic altogether? The good news is, we have some great tips and tricks for you. Phew!

What is colic?

The Mayo Clinic defines colic as frequent, prolonged and intense crying or fussiness in a healthy infant. Sometimes it’s difficult for a new parent to decipher between normal baby crying and colic. Normally if a baby has colic, they will cry for three or more hours a day, three or more days a week, for three or more weeks (aka more times a day, for longer periods of time over an extended period of time). Colic typically occurs between 6 p.m. to midnight according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Colic is common in one-fifth of all babies between the second and fourth week and then typically declines to one or two hours per day by three to four months.

Colic symptoms include intense crying or screaming or another expression of pain that has nothing to do with needing a diaper change or needing to be fed. Some other ways to tell if your baby is experiencing colic is if he is extremely fussy even after the episode has subsided such as reddening of the face, bodily tension, tensed legs, clenched fists or arched back. Often, symptoms subside after your baby has passed gas or has a bowel movement. Gas can be the result of your baby swallowing air during a period of prolonged crying.

What causes colic?

If it becomes excessive and crying is inconsolable, it may be an indication that there is an illness or condition that’s causing the pain or discomfort. If that’s the case, call your pediatrician. They can do a thorough exam to potentially rule out anything serious. Many times, it’s difficult to determine what is causing colic, but some factors that may be contributing are:

  • A digestive system that isn’t fully developed
  • An imbalance of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract, food allergies, overfeeding or underfeeding
  • An early form of a childhood migraine
  • Family stress or anxiety

Colic is also commonly referred to as “an immature nervous system” because it’s the infant’s inability to console or self-soothe themselves while feeling upset or discomfort.

What are some risk factors for colic? 

Overall, risk factors for colic are not well understood; there is no evidence that any of the following factors determine whether or not a baby could develop colic:

  • Sex of the child
  • Preterm and full-term pregnancies
  • Formula-fed or breast-fed babies

However, the Mayo Clinic does say that mothers who smoke during pregnancy may increase the chances of having a baby who develops colic.

What are some complications of colic (for children and parents)?

Luckily, for the child, colic does not cause any short-term or long-term medical problems. It’s a different story for the parents, as a colicky baby can be very stressful and can cause problems for their overall wellbeing including:

  • An increased risk of postpartum depression in the mother
  • Early cessation (ending) of breastfeeding
  • Feelings of guilt, exhaustion and helplessness in parents

If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to seek out relief from another family member or a friend so that you can recharge. Shaking a baby is never the answer and can lead to very serious consequences including permanent brain damage or even death.

What helps with caring for a child with colic?

The recipe for helping parents of a colicky child is education about colic (which you have from this blog post and also your healthcare provider), support for caring for a colicky baby (co-parent, family members, friends and care team), and also information about soothing a crying child. Some tips for the latter are below:

  • If you’re breastfeeding, avoid foods that may cause colic such as milk products, caffeine, onions or cabbage.
  • Switch to a protein hydrolysate formula for your baby.
  • Leave two to two and a half hours in between feedings.
  • Walk your baby in a stroller to create a calming effect.
  • Create white noise sound such as a fan or clothing dryer in the next room.
  • Give your baby a pacifier.
  • Gently rub your baby’s back to calm them down and help relieve gas.
  • Swaddling your baby gives them a cocoon-like feeling which can be calming and helps with overstimulation.

Your baby can sense when you are tense or anxious and that can make colic even worse. Remember to set a good example by remaining calm in high-stress situations and if you need a break, get a partner or family member to take over for a couple of hours to relax, recharge and reset. You may also like our other blogs on babies and sleep and teething.

The information in this article is not intended to be used as medical advice, but instead for thought and consideration. If you have further questions about colic, please contact your pediatrician.

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