My baby Just. Won’t. Stop. Crying!! Something a quick search on Google will bring up time and time again, and the answer is often colic. If this is you – you are most certainly not alone. And so here it is the first instalment of my Survival Tips for New Moms and How to Cope with Colic.
Colic is a term thrown around, and with no real diagnosis, often misused. Colic is defined as unexplained crying that lasts for more than 3 hours at a time, more than 3 days a week. It is often associated with stomach difficulties – gas and reflux – although ironically once one of these has been diagnosed, the condition ceases to be called colic! Colic should start to settle after baby is 6 weeks and should be vastly improved by 3 months. With Matt, he started crying at 2 days old when we put him in his car seat to bring him home from the hospital around noon, and he didn’t stop until 3am! Every afternoon around 4 he would start to cry (or maybe scream inconsolably is more accurate) and wouldn’t let up until he crashed asleep in the early hours of the morning. He was eventually diagnosed with silent reflux after he lost his voice from crying so much at 3 weeks old, but he had other things going on which are for another time.
Although colic often presents as stomach pain, it is actually more related to stimulation. A colicy baby is quickly and easily overstimulated, so reading their signals is a lot harder than you’d expect. They can go from quiet and content to completely overstimulated and melting down in under a minute – blink and you miss it! I will cover reading your baby’s stimulation cues in a future Survival Tips for New Moms post. Once a baby is really crying, they gulp air and swallow a lot. The swallowed air gives them gas, and because of the swallowing and crying, they battle to burp, and the trapped air causes pain, and more crying. The swallowed saliva makes their stomach contents more acidic and the crying and trying to burp pushes the acid up their oesophagus, giving them heartburn and pain, and more crying. And the wind that moves from their stomach into their intestines becomes trapped and difficult to move because of tensed muscles, causing, you guessed it – stomach pain and more crying! A very vicious circle and almost as upsetting for the parents as for the baby.
“So, knowing that your baby is crying because they are overstimulated is all well and good, but how do you deal with it and help your helpless bundle? “
There are two main things that you can do: firstly help them to calm down, and secondly, help them to burp and/or pass wind. The former, as you will well know, is easier said than done. Especially because our natural tendency is to meet our baby at their level.
Calming a colicy baby
My most common mistake is putting baby on my shoulder and bouncing lightly and patting his back – comforting and helping with wind, right? Except that as he screams more, I pat faster and bounce more. In moments of desperation, our logic goes out the window and we become, well, desperate! We forget that our baby is taking his cues from us. And what I’m telling him is that there is reason to panic! Oops! Start over! Different things work for different babies, and the key is to find a technique that works for you.
For us, once revised, the baby on the shoulder works well. He is close to your heart and can feel it beating (the main reason you need to stay calm!), your arms are around him and he can breathe your smell in the nape of your neck which is one of the most comforting places for your baby to be. The bouncing should be gentle and slow, imitating walking (walk if it helps!) which will remind him of being in the womb; and the pat should also be slow, like your heartbeat – think one pat per second.
If you add in a loud (yes, loud) “ssshhhhhhhh” for white noise – again slow as if you were snoring. This gives your little one something else to focus on and is one of the best ways to calm a baby, whether he be crying or trying to settle to sleep.
Most importantly, you need to remove your baby from as much stimulation as possible. Take him somewhere quiet and with low lighting. If this is not possible, hold him close and try to shield him from the light. I have found that singing is a huge help, especially when you can’t get to a quiet place, as your baby can focus on your voice and other noises become secondary.
Winding a colicy baby
Moving trapped wind in a screaming baby is difficult to say the least, hence try to calm him first. Again there are several techniques which work for different babies, and I will talk through these in more detail in a future Survival Tips for New Moms post, but it is so important with a colicy baby to have two or three techniques and stick to them as far as possible. Your baby will learn to recognise what you are doing and be comforted by the repetition, especially once they they learn that the process brings them relief. For us, with both of our babies, a routine that has worked far more than any other is as follows:
- Start off with “normal” winding – that is sitting your baby on your knee with his back as straight as possible and patting lightly and quickly, starting near his bottom and working your way up to his shoulder blades.
- Keeping baby in this position, rotate them 2-3 times to the left and then to the right. This will help to move the wind that has passed through into their intestines but not compress the stomach which can increase reflux.
- Still in the same position, slowly lie baby back into a lying down position and bring him back to sitting. Repeat about 3 times.
“If your baby is still battling with the trapped wind, start over and repeat all 3 steps until he stops crying.”
Often colic is a symptom of reflux (where baby brings up milk) or silent reflux (basically heartburn) so keeping him in a seated position prevents aggravating this. Most often the advice given to help trapped wind in the intestines is to pull the knees up to the chest and to bicycle the legs, which can compress the stomach. When Matt was small, both of his legs were in full length casts so these leg techniques were impossible for us.
Remember that your baby won’t always burp or fart to give you a sign that the wind has moved – sometimes it just needs to break into smaller bubbles or move past a place where it is causing him pain. He also won’t necessarily stop crying when the wind has moved – often he will carry on crying out of frustration or hunger. If you have been winding him for a while and he is still crying, try to offer him his milk. If he is still battling wind he will refuse the milk, but if he is crying from frustration or hunger he will take it.
In closing, one final “trick” I have found in my experience that a baby who has been crying for some time gets himself into a cycle of crying – almost like he can’t work out how to stop even though he has no reason for the cry. In this case, blowing very softly into his face (sounds harsh I know, but I am not suggesting a big puff of air at all, just a very gently breeze!) can stimulate the bradycardic reflex which will make him take in a sharp breath of air and is often enough to stop this cycle of crying.