7 Tips to Help with Your Baby's Colic
Doc Smitty with advice on how to make your extra fussy baby feel better
“Babies eat, sleep, poop and cry. And they usually cry because they need to eat, sleep or poop.”
– Will Shudde, M.D.
Most of you won’t know Dr. Shudde, but he’s the first doctor I ever shadowed during the summer between my second and third year of medical school and I heard this speech about 10 times a day in the hospital and office. There might not be a more profound but simple statement in pediatrics because ...
Crying is normal.
It’s a normal part of being a baby and learning to deal with a crying baby is one of the first challenges you will face as a new parent.
Studies have shown that average crying in the newborn period can reach as high as two hours per day. Which seems like a lot when I write it out and would seem a lot longer if I had a screaming baby in my arms. The same studies suggest that the baby is not outside the realm of normal until we reach a gut-wrenching four hours of crying per day.
The definition of colic varies depending on where you look but the most commonly agreed upon criteria are crying that is:
- More than three hours per day
- More than three days per week
- In a healthy baby less than 3 months of age
Does the definition really matter? Just because a baby doesn’t meet these criteria, doesn’t mean that their cries can’t be extremely stressful to any given family. In fact, I tend to believe that colic is just an extreme form of fussiness or a parent’s perspective of fussiness and not a unique diagnosis.
Studies have attempted to link medical conditions to colic with very little success. Stomach problems, underfeeding, overfeeding, not burping enough, formula problems, intestinal immaturity, intestines that move too much, early migraines ... each possible cause has some studies that suggest a possible link while others do not.
One thing that is clear. Fussy babies affect the entire household. Links have been found between colic and:
- Marital dissatisfaction
- Parental perception of stress
- Lack of parent self-confidence
- Levels of family stress
It’s hard to know if these are caused by the baby’s crying or if the presence of these in the family dynamic affects how parents view their baby’s crying.
If your baby is crying a lot, it’s important for your pediatrician to do a thorough history and physical to determine if there is any possible medical cause for the fussiness. Sometimes, with very stressed parents, I almost wish I could find something to fix. We all want our babies to feel better. If, however, there is no medical cause, here are some tips you can try with an extra fussy baby:
- Quit smoking. Studies have shown that smoking during pregnancy or after delivery increase the amount of crying in newborns.
- Don’t go on the formula carousel. There might be a subset of babies who are sensitive to cow’s milk protein or lactose but most are not. Talk with your pediatrician if you are concerned, but trying 100 formula probably won’t help.
- Know that colic resolves by 3-4 months of age (and usually much sooner). This may be a horrible stage, but at least it’s a stage.
- Take comfort that the child is not sick. If your pediatrician has checked them and everything is ok, they probably aren’t sick.
- Admit that your baby is hard to comfort. There’s no reason to pretend that they are the easiest baby in the world. Admitting that they aren’t can help you to give yourself a break.
- Try some of these comforting techniques: pacifier, holding, rocking, warm bath or playing white noise have all been suggested and helpful in my patients with fussy babies.
- Take a break. The best breaks are longer and involve grandparents or other caregivers and some true time away. A break in the moment might mean putting them in a crib, closing the door and walking away for a few minutes.
Get to know Justin Smith, M.D.
Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children's checkupnewsroom.com. He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles.Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” is set to open in Trophy Club in 2017.