You can buy (and read) all the baby books ever published but not much can truly prepare you for the reality of dealing with a colicky baby. That said, you can find comfort in knowing colic doesn’t last forever.
Navigating life with a newborn can already be a challenge so, let’s shine a light on babies with colic. Here’s everything you need to know including the signs and symptoms, and what we know about its causes. We’ll also walk you through your potential next steps. Let’s get into it!
What Is Colic?
First things first, what is colic? According to the Mayo Clinic, colic is frequent, prolonged, and intense crying or fussiness in an otherwise perfectly healthy infant. Yes, you read that right. Frequent, intense, and prolonged fits of crying and fussiness with no known explanation.
Not only do these crying episodes last longer than usual crying fits, but no amount of consoling can also expedite the end.
Are There Any Complications?
The good news is that colic doesn’t cause any long-term complications for the newborn. That said, the condition can lead to a significant spike in caregiver stress levels.
Before you start crying too, it’s important to know that there are several real strategies that can help you endure. First, let’s do a deeper dive into the most common signs of a baby with colic.
Signs and Symptoms of Colic
Not all tantrums are created equal. All babies cry and fuss, but those with colic do so for longer and do it more frequently. More specifically, colic is defined as crying for three or more hours a day, three or more days per week, for three or more weeks, says John Hopkins Medicine.
The crying can sometimes seem more like screaming in pain than usual, and it usually happens for no apparent reason.
When Do Symptoms Occur?
Episodes of colic are often predictable, with most appearing in the evenings. The episodes don’t end when the tears stop either. Crying bouts are commonly followed by periods of extreme fussiness and irritability.
Typically, the symptoms of colic begin to appear at the 2-week mark, peak at 6-weeks and diminish completely at around 10-weeks.
Uncovering the potential causes of colic in babies has proven to be a tricky venture indeed. There are just so many factors to account for and not enough research. The professionals have their prevailing theories though.
It may be that your baby is having trouble adjusting to the various lights, sights, and sounds of their brand-new world. It may be that your baby hasn’t yet learned how to calm themselves. Another (unproven theory) attributes colic to a baby’s sensitivity to gas. Another puts the blame on milk intolerance.
Medical Conditions That Can Look Like Colic
Several health conditions can appear like colic. Some of these include acid reflux, eating too much, sensitivity to formula or breastmilk, brain or nervous system inflammation, eye trouble, uneven heartbeat, and an injury to their bones or muscles.
To play it safe, it’s best to bring your baby to the doctor. They can perform a full exam to rule out any of these health conditions.
Much like the causes of colic, medical science has yet to render anything close to conclusive regarding the prevalent risk factors. Looking at the sex of the child, as well as the length of the pregnancy term, has led to nothing. It doesn’t seem to matter if a newborn is formula-fed, or breastfed either.
In short, every baby is at risk of developing colic, and there isn’t much expecting parents can do to help prevent it from developing in their newborn.
When to See a Doctor?
It’s always important to seek out medical care the first time your newborn baby begins crying without an explanation. Excessive crying may end up being colic, but it could also be a sign of an underlying illness or medical condition that’s causing your baby to feel persistent pain and discomfort.
To be safe, reach out to a medical professional to ensure that your baby is indeed healthy. Only then can you be sure that it’s nothing more than colic.
While there is no official testing for colic, your doctor can still perform an exam and review their medical history. During the physical exam, they will observe things such as their breathing, energy levels, body temperature, skin tone, and weight.
If the doctor suspects there may be another underlying cause, they may request more tests to rule out other health conditions.
There’s no known cause, and there’s no cure, but there are steps that you can take to soothe your colicky baby. It starts by responding to your baby’s cries as immediately as you can.
Building a serene evening environment and limiting visitors in the evenings can help too.
More Ways to Soothe Their Symptoms
If you believe that your baby’s colic is caused by gastrointestinal discomfort, try burping them, or apply gentle pressure to their tummy and see how they respond. If that fails, you could try switching their formula or, if breastfeeding, monitoring the mother’s diet.
Other, traditional ways to calm a fussy baby include white noise, pacifiers, rocking motions, physical touch, and even a change of scenery.
The Importance of Parent Self-Care
Prolonged periods of crying with no solution, fussiness, confusion… as if raising a newborn child isn’t stressful enough! Colic can be a real test for parents, and the only way to truly endure the endless waves of crying and tantrums is to remain mindful of your own stress levels.
Take turns with your partner, call in the in-laws, and try leaning into your favorite de-stressors. Mercifully, there is a finish line. Though symptoms of colic start to appear around the 2-week milestone, they begin to subside at around 10 to 12-weeks. So, take a breath, lean on your support system, and take comfort in knowing that this too shall pass.