Soothing a Baby With Colic
| Posted On Jul 27, 2022 | By: Dr. Elizabeth Bigus
Being a new parent can be challenging, especially if your baby experiences colic. Colic is characterized by frequent and prolonged episodes of crying with no apparent cause. These episodes can occur in infants of any age, but symptoms typically peak at six weeks and become less frequent after three to four months. Colic is more common at night, which can lead to frustration, exhaustion, and stress in parents.
Although episodes of colic can be anxiety-provoking for parents, it’s important to remember that your child is healthy, and the condition is common – about one in four babies have colic.
Signs & Symptoms
Colic is not regular fussiness. Every child becomes fussy from time to time, especially as new parents learn their baby’s wants and needs. If your baby cries more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week during a three-week period, it’s likely colic.
Colic episodes are also characterized by high-pitched crying and screaming that begins suddenly. Babies with colic are difficult to soothe with traditional methods. During episodes, they may also stiffen their arms and legs, arch their backs, and clench their fists.
To help you determine if your baby has colic, check your baby’s diaper, temperature, and ensure they are comfortable in their environment. You can also try to feed them and put them down to sleep. These steps can help you rule out other reasons your baby could be crying.
The following symptoms are not due to colic, and you should call your doctor if your baby:
- has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
- is less alert or active than usual
- isn’t eating
- has loose stools or blood in the stool
- is throwing up, is losing weight, or not gaining weight
Diagnosis & Treatment of Colic
The first step to diagnosing colic is to talk to your child’s provider about their symptoms to rule out other, more serious illnesses. Your provider will likely ask about your baby’s eating habits, allergies, and daily routine.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for colic. However, there are strategies that parents can use to calm their child during a colic episode.
- Try the 5 S’s to soothe your baby:
- Sway – hold your baby and sway back and forth, even adding a little bounce.
- Shhh – making a “shush” sound can mimic noises your baby may have heard in the womb.
- Swaddle – wrapping your baby securely in a blanket can simulate the secure feeling they had in the womb.
- Side stomach position – holding your baby on their side or stomach can activate a calming effect.
- Sucking is a primitive reflex that babies have. A study conducted in 2020 confirmed that giving a baby a pacifier to suck on could help relieve pain.
- Skin-to-skin contact with your child can help soothe them. At the same time, pat their back to help them release any gas.
- Gentle massaging and rubbing your child’s stomach can help soothe their body tension. Ask your doctor for guidance on how to best massage an infant’s stomach to relieve and not increase stomach pain.
- Bathing your infant in warm water or putting a damp towel on their stomach is an effective way to calm infants when they are crying. Afterward, swaddle your baby in a cotton sheet.
- Taking a walk and getting fresh air can help calm both you and your baby and distract you from the stress.
- Studies have shown that probiotic drops containing lactobacillus effectively reduce crying time.
- “Gripe water” or simethicone drops are intended to help ease gas and indigestion. Most include herbal ingredients that are safe for babies. Before giving your baby any new medication, make sure to contact your provider.
Causes & Prevention
There is no clear cause of colic, but some providers suspect that indigestion may trigger these episodes. Other potential causes include sensitivity to light and noise, a developing nervous system, fear or excitement, or an early form of childhood migraine.
One theory suggests that colic might be caused by an infant swallowing air during feedings. Parents should pay close attention to the position of their baby’s body and mouth when feeding and burping the baby after they eat.
While every baby is different, there are a few things parents can do to lessen the chances of a baby developing colic:
- If your baby is breastfed, the nursing parent can make changes to their diet to help prevent colic. Foods to avoid include caffeine, alcohol, dairy products, and some spices. Here is a full list of foods to avoid when breastfeeding.
- A nursing parent may also be advised by their doctor to limit chocolate, nuts, and other allergens. If they are on any medications, they should consult with their provider to determine whether or not it passes into breast milk.
- Follow proper breastfeeding techniques. If the infant’s mouth is improperly positioned around the nipple, excess air enters the baby’s stomach, which moves into the intestine and stretches its walls, causing pain. A breastfeeding consultant can help you learn the correct breastfeeding technique.
- When bottle feeding your infant, choose a nipple carefully and follow the preparation instructions on the formula container. Doctors recommend a fast-flow teat to limit the amount of air swallowed by your baby during a feeding.
- Avoid overfeeding your baby or allowing them to eat too quickly.
- Try feeding from the bottle in an upright position and then burp them.
It can be stressful for any parent when their baby experiences colic, but with patience and soothing techniques, you can help ease their symptoms. Your Atrius Health provider is here to help if your infant experiences constant colic symptoms or their symptoms worsen.
About Dr. Elizabeth Bigus
Dr. Elizabeth Bigus joined Atrius Health in 2021 and is a board-certified pediatrician at our Harvard Vanguard Burlington location. She attended medical school at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine in Orlando. She completed both her internship and residency at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Dr. Bigus’ clinical interests include newborn care and obesity prevention and management.