Colic is one of the great mysteries of a baby’s life. No one knows for sure what causes “uncontrollable crying in an otherwise healthy baby,” or why it tends to happen in the late afternoon or evening. If your baby cries for more than 3 hours a day, 3 days a week or more, for longer than 3 weeks, you can say that you have a “colicky” baby. But, what causes colic? More importantly, is there anything that new mothers can do about it?
What are the Causes of Colic?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a consensus as to what causes this frustrating behaviour. That said, there is some good news for mothers that are dealing with this unpleasant experience. First, moms can rest assured that it almost always goes away after 3 or 4 months. This may not make you feel much better at 3am, when your child just won’t stop crying. But, just know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Over 60% of babies experience colic and only 1 in 10 still have it at 4 months of age.
It may also give you peace of mind to know that most doctors do not consider colic to be an illness or a symptom of a stomach ache, an allergy, or disease. There is no “cure,” for colic because recent research suggests that it is not an illness. Instead, it is a behaviour – a result of the baby trying to adapt its nervous system to the stress and stimulation of life outside the womb.
Some experts like Dr. Barry Lester from the Colic Clinic of the Women & Infants’ Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, believe that colic is behaviour that is shared by mother and baby. They say that the way that a mother and her baby interact can create a vicious cycle. A crying, irritable child stresses out her mother, which causes the baby to become more stressed, which leads to more crying.
This doesn’t mean that, if your child has colic, you have done something “wrong” as a mother. In fact, The Canadian Paediatric Society doesn’t even use the word “colic” anymore to describe the condition of persistent crying as a separate medical phenomenon. Instead, they describe crying as part of a baby’s normal development process. At the same time, the fact that colic is a behaviour means that it may be something that we can influence.
So, let’s look at 5 things that you can do to get through the tearful times and enjoy a positive experience with your baby.
Try to Relax
Babies are super sensitive. If you are feeling isolated or overwhelmed trying to keep everything running smoothly, your baby will sense your stress. This stress is passed on to your baby, who, lacking the tools to deal with strong emotions, may become overwhelmed. This feeling of insecurity may cause your child to be more comfortable at the breast, and if they feed, might give them an upset stomach. Do you see why they call it a vicious cycle?
Dealing with colic requires us to be calm at a time when we feel the most stressed out. If your baby has colic, it probably means that he or she is not yet able to self-calm. Remind yourself that, even if your baby’s crying is frustrating and unnerving you, things will get better, naturally, in a few months. In the meantime, anything that you can do to reduce stress in your, and your baby’s, environment will help.
So, what should you do? Try to take control of your stress. Make sure that you get plenty of breaks from caring for your child. If you can, seek support from your partner, family, and close friends. Get out into nature and meet with other moms. Try to prioritize domestic tasks so you can spend more time focusing on providing a calm environment for the baby. Don’t forget situations, like winding down at the end of the day, might be normal for an adult but highly stressful for a baby. As you reduce stress, you may be able to create a virtuous cycle – the less stressed you are, the less stressed your baby will be.
Look at the Bigger Picture
It’s possible that stress in your family may be contributing to your baby’s colic. This is not surprising, given the amount of stress that having a new baby brings to a household. Try not to take the weight of the world on your shoulders. Lactation Consultants suggest that you engage your other family members in helping to create an environment that is relaxing and as stress-free as possible.
Try a Gentle Touch
Anyone who has ever received a massage understands the power of touch to relieve stress. Well, massage isn’t just for adults – babies can benefit from massage as well! You don’t even need a “professional” to give your baby a massage. All you need is a warm bath, a quiet, dimly lit room and your own magical hands. According to a study cited in this article in “Parenting,” 28% of parents who practiced infant massage felt that they were able to reduce their baby’s crying.
Create Soothing Sounds
The world is a noisy place for newborn babies. In fact, for some of the most sensitive little ones, loud noises might even be a contributing factor in extended colicky crying. The good news is that the opposite is also true; soothing sounds may calm your baby. Babies also respond to familiar voices. So, sing your baby a gentle lullaby or quietly hum while you sit together.
Get in Motion
Another way to re-create the baby’s sense of calm in the womb is with calming movements. We all know how easy it is for a baby to fall asleep in the car. There is something about the regular motion that they find comforting. Other crying babies are calmed by smooth, rhythmic movements, like being rocked in a rocking chair, hammock, or infant swing. You can also make it a point to get out of the house every day with your baby. Not only will the motion calm your baby, but, it will also help you to feel relaxed, which will create a “virtuous cycle” of positive emotions.
One of the myths about colic is that you can “spoil” your baby by responding to her cries or holding her too much. The evidence just doesn’t support this. Instead, it shows that colic can be overcome with patience, dedication and a sense of calm. In this way, helping your baby to overcome colic is one of the first gifts that you can give your child. It shows your child that, even at their crankiest, you still love them and want them to feel safe.
Do you know anyone who has had a baby with colic? What did they do to improve the situation? Please add your thoughts in the comments section or join the conversation on our Medela Canada Facebook page.