All babies cry. That’s how they communicate their needs – when they’re hungry, need a diaper change, feeling discomfort, or when they just want to be held. Some babies are quiet, and others are known to scream their heads off at the slightest provocation. This too is normal in a sense. And so is colic in babies.
Usually, when a mother, father or even a sibling holds the baby and attends to their needs, they quiet down for a bit and are reintegrated into our silent world. Then there are times when your baby cries loudly for what seems like hours on end and nothing you do seems to soothe him. He cries and cries to the point where even you start crying.
Your baby may have something called colic or ‘the crying spell’. When you know what it is, you can know how to treat it.
What is Colic?
When you bring your newborn baby home, you’ll probably marvel at how simple they are. All they do is sleep, eat, poop, pee, and cry – in that order. You’ll also be struck by how tiny they are.
Their tiny hands and feet, tiny and almost always shut eyes, tiny ears, tiny nose, and tiny mouth. Then one day after the blissful first couple of weeks, that tiny mouth erupts in a wail so ear-piercing, so inconsolable, so heartbreaking, so frequent and so often at night!
It’s like their one sole mission during that period is to ensure you don’t sleep. Your baby is not a terrorist mummy and daddy; she just has colic.
Your baby is not a terrorist, mummy and daddy; she just has colic.
Colic is not a disease or diagnosis but rather baffling behaviour. It’s when an infant who isn’t sick or hungry cries for more than 3 hours a day, 3 days a week, and for more than 3 weeks. As I said, it’s a baffling behaviour, but experts agree on a few things:
- Colic is likely to start around age 2 weeks if the baby is full-term, and much later if he is preterm.
- It doesn’t last forever and almost always goes away by the time the baby is 3 or 4 months old.
- Breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, and sex do not cause colic. It can occur regardless of the three and despite them.
- Colic is quite common, happening in 1 in every 5 infants.
- When the babies grow up, you can’t tell who had colic as an infant and who did not. They all grow up fine.
- Colic is different, very, very different from normal crying.
Symptoms and Signs of Colic
So, your baby screams like a banshee for no apparent reason and refuses to be comforted. Noted; but are you absolutely sure it’s colic?
A colicky baby will:
- Fuss and cry at will and for no apparent reason.
- Make a loud, high-pitched wail like someone in a lot of pain or a screaming banshee.
- Cry for a total of 3 hours or more and usually at the same time each day.
- Often cry in the late afternoon, early evening or late into the night.
- Refuse to be comforted, which will increase your own stress and frustrations.
- Flay her arms and legs, or bend them toward her belly and clench her fists.
- Have a bloated tummy.
- Not eat or sleep. The baby might reject the nipple or bottle once feeding has begun or dozed off only to wake up bawling a few minutes later.
Beyond these, your doctor will have to make absolutely sure that your baby doesn’t have something else that’s causing the cries. You can help by taking note of the following:
- When the baby cries and how long it lasts
- What seems to start the cries.
- How the cry sounds like: normal or high-pitched.
- What works to calm him down
- What baby eats and how often
- How the baby’s poop look like: big, small, frequent, scarce, watery, solid etc.
What Causes Colic in Babies?
Nothing. Nobody knows exactly what causes colic in babies. It’s not as a result of a genetic mishap, or a feeding style malfunction, or something that happened during the pregnancy or even a lack of parenting skills. It’s not your fault, and it’s not the babies’ fault either.
Okay maybe the baby can take a little blame, after all, they’re the ones bawling. There are a few theories, however – and mind you, these are theories – of what could cause colic. If you can cure, treat or prevent any of these, then you might be able to curb colic in your baby.
- Newborns are born with a built-in mechanism for tuning out sights and sounds around them. This allows them to live and sleep peacefully without disturbance. But towards the end of the first month, they lose this ability and are exposed to everything they see and hear. They can’t handle it so they cry (and cry and cry and cry). Eventually, they adapt and develop a filter that enables them to manage their senses. Then they stop crying. Babies are just magical; wouldn’t you agree?
- A baby’s gastrointestinal system is legit brand new and has not had much experience digesting food – or anything at all for that matter. As a result, the food may pass through quickly not breaking down completely. This will result in pain and gas from the intestines and a loud wailing from the mouth.
- Some experts believe that colic is caused by an allergy to certain foods in the baby’s diet. An allergy to cow or goat’s protein or lactose intolerance is an example. This could be from a bottle or even the breast, depending on what the mother has eaten.
Babies that are secondhand smokers, drinkers and users of drugs. A mother who smoked, drank or used drugs during or after her pregnancy may have a colicky baby. Experts say secondhand smoke might be a huge cause for colic in babies. The bottom line is: do not smoke or let anybody else, whoever they may be, smoke around your baby.
How to Treat Colic in Babies
You can’t treat it as it doesn’t have a cure. What you can do is try a myriad of things to help you manage it better. Do not try all these at once. Try it one after the other for a while before you switch to the next if one doesn’t seem to be working.
- Response to your baby’s cries. Remember that she’s powerless in this big world and her only source of power is knowing that you’ll come running when she cries. Studies show that responding to your baby’s cries will limit said crying in the long run.
- Limit visitors. Do not let your baby become swamped too soon. Watch out for anything that might trigger the baby and avoid it. Do not be in a haste to introduce them to new environments. Allow them to become used to one first. Take baby steps.
- Apply pressure to the baby’s tummy. Some colicky babies find relief when pressure is applied to their tummies. Place your little one face down on your lap or upright with his tummy against your shoulder or face-down with his belly resting against your arm. Then rub or pat his back gently as you hold him.
- Burp your baby during feedings. If the crying is caused by indigestion, this will make it go away but be sure you’re doing it right.
- Watch what you eat, and ask about switching formulas. The issue might be with baby’s diet so ask your paediatrician what will work best for baby’s tummy. Please always check with your paediatrician before you change yours or baby’s diets.
- Create a white noise. White noise refers to low humming sounds that are a replica of the sound a baby hears in her mother’s womb. Studies have shown that babies like white noise as it reminds them of the womb, an area where they felt loved and protected and was home for 9 whole months. If your baby is colicky and fussy, reminding them of their roots can be calming and refreshing. You can create white noise by ‘shhhing’ in baby’s ears softly, from the humming sound of a dryer, vacuum cleaner, hairdryer or even a low blender. Place these sounds next to your baby and watch the magic happen.
- Play calming music or sing for your baby.
- Take a walk, swing the baby or rock the baby. Move about.
When to Call a Doctor
Because babies can’t talk and tell you exactly what’s wrong, you will need to eliminate all possibilities. Yes, it’s probably harmless colic, but what if it isn’t? What if your baby’s banshee wail is a cry for help? Call a doctor when:
- The baby loses more weight than she gains
- She cannot be soothed at all, even for a few minutes.
- Doesn’t eat or eats less than usual
- Doesn’t like or want to be carried, rocked or touched.
- Baby has diarrhoea or blood in her poop.
- Baby isn’t breathing well.
- She seems less alert and sleepier than usual.
- Runs a fever
- She has fewer wet diapers.
You can also call your doctor when you just want to vent your own personal frustrations. Raising a baby is hard, and emotionally draining work. Take care of you so you can take care of your baby. If you feel stressed out, then you should see this.
If the baby’s screams are getting to you, you can arrange a screaming contest. Scream as loudly as the baby is, who knows, you might feel better, and she might too. Colic in babies can affect their parents too, don’t let it affect you. This too shall pass, and you’ll have your bouncy baby back.