Comforting a Colicky Baby
There’s nothing unique about a wailing baby, but when their cries stretch out over a span of several hours, it can feel like a relentless battle of wits between baby and parent. You rock them, burp them, change their diaper, and they just keep crying. And crying. And crying.
This is the mysterious condition known as colic.
“Many parents are tempted to diagnose their crying baby with colic, but there are certain standards that pediatricians look for when determining if the infant actually has the condition. We look for a ‘three’ pattern: Is the baby between three weeks and three months old? Does the baby cry harder than expected for more than three hours a day? For more than three days a week? At least three weeks in a row? If so, that’s a pretty strong case for colic,” said Julie Babineaux, MD, pediatrician with The Pediatric Center of Southwest Louisiana and medical staff member of West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital.
According to Dr. Babineaux, colic is usually at its worst when babies are around seven weeks old. The condition typically goes away by 14 weeks. For a weary and defeated parent, however, those weeks can feel like decades.
“It’s extremely tiring and frustrating to care for a colicky baby. Parenting an infant is stressful enough, but when you can’t seem to alleviate the crying, that stress level can quickly skyrocket,” Dr. Babineaux said. “That’s why it’s best to see your pediatrician if you’re concerned about your child’s behavior. The thing to remember is that colic is normal.”
The root cause of colic is unknown, but some believe it could be caused by an infant’s underdeveloped nervous system or their general sensitive temperament. “Infants are still learning to control their bodies and behaviors,” said Dr. Babineaux. “As they mature, they have more control over their functions, which is why colic generally disappears at a certain age.”
Although belly problems can cause a baby to wail and cry, colic isn’t caused by gastrointestinal issues or any other health condition. With gastro problems, the crying usually subsides after treatment. But the hallmark symptom of colic is forceful crying that seems to have no obvious source.
“This is what makes it so challenging. Parents do everything they can think of to make their baby more comfortable, but it doesn’t work,” Dr. Babineaux said. “It’s not the baby’s fault or the parents’.” Colicky crying is often accompanied by clenched fists and stiffened legs. Some babies may arch their backs or pull their legs up. The best way to respond is to try to comfort the baby as much as possible -- which is typically how parents react. “You can also be proactive to try and prevent the episode.”
Pay attention to your infant’s patterns. If the baby cries most at certain times of the day, try holding the baby more before that time hits. According to Dr. Babineaux, you can also lower lights, keep noise levels low and limit the number of visitors or distractions that your baby will experience during the “fussy time.”
“Being proactive can have positive effects on the baby’s behavior,” Dr. Babineaux said. “If and when the crying starts, try taking a ride in the car or bringing the baby near a monotonous droning sound, like a ceiling fan. Sometimes the constant and predictable sound can be comforting.”
Most importantly, however, parents should remember to take good care of themselves. Colic tests the levels of parental frustration, but being stressed and tense will do little to ease the situation. Dr. Babineaux suggests that parents elicit the help of family and friends for times when they feel overwhelmed.