Signs of Colic and How to Soothe a Colicky Baby

Does your baby often become inconsolable in the evening? If periods of fussiness and crying happen for around 3 hours at least 3 days a week, for at least 3 weeks, then your baby is considered to have colic.

A colicky baby crying

In this article, we’ll look at what exactly colic is and what parents can do to soothe and reduce symptoms in a colicky baby.

What Is Baby Colic?

From two weeks old up to about four months, the chances of a baby having colic is about 20 percent. The crying usually takes place somewhere between 6 p.m. and midnight, causing parents to scramble finding the cause for alarm and what can soothe it. Other symptoms can be gas, which sometimes is actually caused by air taken in during bouts of crying and screaming. Some of the other symptoms to look out for are fist-clenching, drawing her knees to her chest and disrupted sleep.

What Causes Colic in Babies?

While colic is sometimes mistaken for gas or acid reflux in babies, these are separate causes of crying. The medical community isn’t sure why colic happens in babies. Sometimes, even when problems like gas and reflux are addressed, colicky behavior continues. Some doctors speculate that colic could be overstimulation from the baby’s adjustment to life outside the womb, or exposure to tobacco. Others argue it’s the result of hormones that cause the digestive system to contract and spasm. 

In some cases, a breastfed infant does actually have a food allergy or sensitivity to something in the mother’s diet. Formula-fed babies can be sensitive to soy and dairy, too. Sometimes, changes in the baby’s or mother’s diet either eliminates colic or reduces the severity.

Does Colic Pass?

Thankfully, colic goes away by the age of three or four months. In the meantime, there are things you can do to ease your baby’s gas and reflux if these are problems she’s having. Also, there are ways to comfort and soothe a crying, overstimulated newborn by emulating the environment she experienced inside the womb.

Tips for Soothing a Baby with Colic

1. See Your Baby’s Pediatrician

If you suspect your baby may have colic, having her seen by her pediatrician can rule out other possibilities or confirm a diagnosis. Keep track of when and how long she cries and let the pediatrician know about any patterns you notice, like how soon the crying starts after feeding her and what, if anything, soothes her crying. If the crying is caused by gas or reflux, your child’s pediatrician can prescribe some medication to ease the symptoms.

2. Baby Massage

Especially when performed after a bath in a low-lit setting, a massage can help calm an overstimulated newborn by soothing her senses. Dim the lights and warm up the room. After bathing your baby, lay her down just in a diaper. Use high-quality extra-virgin coconut oil, avocado oil, or non-toxic product that doubles as a massage oil and skin moisturizer. With gentle strokes instead of firm rubs, massage your baby’s arms and legs, one or two at a time. Softly massage her belly in a clockwise direction, then roll her over and gently stroke her back from upper to lower.

3. Gripe Water

Gripe water is a natural, herbal-based remedy for infants struggling with gas. It can be very effective in helping your baby eliminate gas from her digestive tract, but if she has reflux, there’s a chance it can cause further irritation. Different herbs are used in different gripe water formulas, but they often include ginger, which can increase acid secretion and worsen reflux in babies. The good news is, grip water is a very safe alternative to gas medicine since it’s made only with natural herbs. Some of the active ingredients may include fennel, chamomile, licorice and peppermint, which are known for soothing inflamed bowels and breaking down gas. Before trying anything new for your baby, be sure to first speak with your child’s pediatrician.

4. White Noise

White noise machines are shown to help newborn babies fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer by imitating the sound atmosphere of the womb. You can download free white noise apps for your phone or tablet to use when putting your baby down to sleep and soothing her during bouts of colic. Just be sure to place the device on airplane mode. 

5. Eliminate Dairy and Gluten if You’re Breastfeeding

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, dairy and gluten are the leading digestive irritants in breastfed babies due to their developing systems. If you’re breastfeeding your baby, eliminating dairy and gluten can tell you whether this is the problem. Within 24 to 72 hours after you eliminate dairy products and gluten-containing foods from your diet, you should start to see a change in your baby’s symptoms. If there’s no change after 3 days, you can assume your diet probably isn’t an issue. Other foods that can irritate newborn tummies include acidic foods like tomato, lemon and vinegar-based sauces or dressings.

6. Try Switching Your Baby’s Formula

If you have your colicky baby on a dairy-based formula, try switching to an organic non-dairy option. Some babies can’t tolerate dairy until their systems have had more time to develop. Other babies can’t tolerate soy ingredients in their milk. You can find infant formula specifically designed for fussy babies who have tummy troubles. Trying a few high quality, organic options to find the best one may be worth it if you suspect gas or reflux are contributing to your baby’s crying.

7. Give Your Baby Probiotics

Speak to your child’s pediatrician about getting probiotic drops to add to your baby’s milk or put in her mouth directly. Made specifically with friendly bacteria strains babies need for healthy digestion, infant probiotic supplements can help reduce reflux and soothe digestion. Since babies are born without their microbiome in place, they need to quickly develop it for healthy digestion. Probiotics can give your newborn the boost her gut needs to stay ahead of digestive complaints, especially when you’re consistent about giving them daily.

Conclusion

It’s extremely difficult for a parent to see their baby crying inconsolably. If your newborn cries for long periods multiple days a week, partner with her pediatrician and remember you’re not alone. Try natural remedies to make your baby more comfortable. Typically, swaddling, white noise, dim lighting and other elements that mimic the experience inside the womb, are a good place to start.

 

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