dr sears

Top 10 Tips for Colic by Dr. Sears

By Dr. Bill Sears

Is your baby colicky? If you’re not sure, then the answer is likely no. Your baby may have a fussy time of day, or may have a high need for your presence, but this does not necessarily mean he suffers from colic. Colic is uncontrollable crying for three or more hours per day, three or more days per week, for three weeks or more. Sound like your baby? You may feel helpless to control the situation – like there’s nothing you can do to relieve your baby’s discomfort. But consider the following tips for making your baby – and yourself – feel a little better:

  1. Use a more positive label – A baby with colic symptoms isn’t a bad baby or a fussy baby. He is a hurting baby. Just the simple change of wording can help you see your baby’s crying in a different light. When someone is hurting, we want to solve the problem by finding a cause. A hurting baby may outgrow this phase, but it’s still worth the effort to look for a cause to resolve his pain.
  2. Keep a diary – Sleep deprived parents dealing with a baby who cries for several hours a day may find it hard to remember what happened when, and how behaviors might relate to each other. The best way to discern a pattern in your baby’s behavior is to write it down. Are there certain events that precede crying episodes? When is your baby’s mood the worst, or the best? What works to soothe your baby? A diary can also help your healthcare provider assess what might be causing your baby’s distress.
  3. Rule out medical causes – Gastroesophageal reflux, food sensitivities and other allergies can be the source of much discomfort and fussiness. Ask your baby’s healthcare provider for a thorough medical workup to explore these possibilities. Don’t give up if you cannot pinpoint a medical cause right away – if your intuition tells you your baby is hurting, keep searching for a remedy that makes him comfortable as well as an underlying cause.
  4. Keep breastfeeding – In the past, nursing moms were mistakenly told to switch to hypoallergenic formula, thinking that colic was caused by allergens in breastmilk. What we now know is that the unique immunologic properties of breastmilk can still be enjoyed by babies with transient lactase deficiency – a newly recognized cause of colic – with the use of digestive enzymes. And breastmilk is much easier to digest – a boon for the hurting baby’s gut.
  5. Check your diet – Occasionally something in a nursing mom’s diet causes her baby to experience digestive problems. The most common culprit is cow’s milk protein. If you think your baby is reacting to something you’re eating, keep a food diary, and see if certain foods correlate to your baby’s crying. You can then begin to eliminate classes of foods to see if your baby’s hurting lessens (for instance, dairy, wheat, etc.). Keep in mind it can take two to three weeks for some of these substances to leave your system, so results of an elimination diet may not be immediately visible.
  6. Use probiotics – Probiotics improve immunity and digestion by aiding the production of “good” gut bacteria. This can lessen gas and bloating, a common cause for infant crying. Lactobacillus GG is a common probiotic that can be used for infants and toddlers. 
  7. Carry your baby – Consider using a sling and wearing your baby much of the day. You presence is calming, and your body movement may help your baby to settle. Your baby may also relax when carried in a different position from your norm. Try a modified football hold – place his cheek in your hand, his abdomen on your forearm and his legs straddling your elbow. Take a walk, dance while holding your baby, even just bounce gently in place. This will not only relax your baby, but will help you feel a little more peaceful, as well.
  8. Learn infant massage – Some simple massage strokes may not only help calm your baby, but may actually move some gas through the intestines to lessen your baby’s discomfort. “Bicycle” his legs as he lies on his back, or sit him in your lap with your hand gently pressed into his abdomen and lean him forward. Clockwise stroking around the abdomen follows the direction of the large intestines, and can help move gas bubbles. Try  draping him over an exercise ball and gently rolling him back and forth – this takes advantage of pressure on his belly along with movement to relieve his discomfort.
  9. Try ‘white noise’ – While it won’t detect a cause of your baby’s hurting, the hum of a fan, the purr of a car’s engine, or the crinkling of a radio set to static can be calming to a baby’s nerves. Try using a metronome. Or take a car ride. Wear your baby in a sling while you vacuum the carpet. Set baby in a seat near the dishwasher as it runs. White noise decreases stress by limiting stimuli to the brain.
  10. Find support  – One of the best things you can do for yourself is find support – others who cared for a hurting baby can help you look more objectively at your situation. Ask your healthcare provider to connect you with parents who have worked through the same trials you face.

Coping with colic can be extremely challenging. Try not to take it personally. Your baby’s crying is not because of anything you have done, and does not mean your baby dislikes you. Remind yourself how much you love your baby – even through all the screaming and tears. Most of all, remember that colic is temporary. Colic typically peaks around six to eight weeks, and most often disappears by four months.