How to Help a Crying Colicky Baby

Tips for soothing your inconsolable baby.

Helping to alleviate baby’s colic symptoms for a calmer family environment.

If you’re a parent, you know the early days with a newborn can be overwhelming. Lack of sleep, hormonal surges, and trying to figure out life with a new baby are difficult to navigate.

When you’re tasked with caring for a baby who cries inconsolably, your days quickly become stressful. You may be wondering if your baby’s crying is normal or if there is an underlying problem.

How to Help a Crying Colicky Baby

According to On Becoming Babywise, almost 20% of babies will experience colic. Here are the differences between normal fussiness and colic, symptoms of colic, and tips for soothing your inconsolable baby.

What is a Normal Fussiness?

So much of a parent’s job is detective work. You’ll be gathering data, taking notes, and looking for clues about your child for years to come. When it comes to baby fussiness, there’s really not much different.

Before we can begin discussing the colicky baby, it’s important to note what is a normal amount of crying for an infant. For most infants, a normal amount of crying includes:

  • Crying before a feeding due to hunger.
  • Fussing for a few moments when laid down for nap.
  • Having a window of unhappy time most days, usually the late afternoon or evening, when they require hands-on care to stay calm.

While these are normal and (for the experienced parent) even expected times of fussiness, a colicky baby will act somewhat different.

How is Colic Different?

One of the main differences between a colicky baby and a fussy baby is the length of crying.

Fussy babies will be calm and relatively content the majority of their days, while colicky ones are irritable (and even inconsolable) more often than not.

Other symptoms of a colicky baby include:

  • Extreme prolonged irritability lasting for at least three hours a day, three or more days a week, for three or more weeks.
  • Sharp, piercing cries that seem to be an expression of pain.
  • Crying for no particular reason (such as hunger or a dirty diaper).
  • Stomach distress including stiffened legs and arms, an arched back, passing gas, or even uncontrollable flailing of arms or legs.

These symptoms usually show between two and four weeks of age and can last into baby’s third month. If you think your baby might be suffering from colic, you’ll want to call your pediatrician to discuss this.

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What Causes Colic?

Although colic presents itself as a digestive disorder, it’s widely believed to be related to a baby’s immature nervous system. As such, it doesn’t bring associated medical concerns, although it is incredibly stressful for families. This stress can lead to postpartum depression, stopping breastfeeding early, and feelings of guilt or helplessness.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these factors may also be associated with colic:

  • A digestive system that isn’t fully developed.
  • An imbalance of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.
  • Food allergies or intolerances.
  • Overfeeding, underfeeding, or infrequent burping.
  • An early form of childhood migraine.
  • Family stress or anxiety.

While the causes of colic aren’t completely understood, it’s important to note that a colicky baby isn’t at risk for significant short or long-term health problems and he will outgrow colic.

Related: Have Researchers Found a Cure for Colic?

How to Soothe Colic?

Learning how to soothe a colicky baby is extremely important to calm your child, build confidence in your parenting, and bring a sense of peace to your home.

On Becoming Babywise suggests the following to help soothe a colicky baby:

  • Swaddle your baby.
  • Give your baby a warm bath.
  • Place baby in an infant swing close to white noise (such as a clothes dryer, vacuum, dishwasher, etc).
  • If breastfeeding, consider systematically eliminating gas-producing foods from your diet to see if the symptoms of colic begin to clear.
  • Try offering baby a pacifier after feeding to help bring comfort.
  • Excessive crying can cause gas bubbles so burp a colicky baby frequently.
  • Colicky babies have low tolerance for rapid movements (such as fast moving pictures on a tv). Try reducing excessive stimulation, especially during periods of colic.

If you feel your baby may be suffering from colic, it’s important to consult your pediatrician to confirm. Helping to alleviate your baby’s colic symptoms will make for a calmer environment for your whole family.

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Jess Wartinger

Jess Wartinger

Jess Wartinger resides in rural New York with her husband and five children. Formerly an early elementary teacher, Jess currently spends her time loving her kids and holding down the fort at home.

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