When Baby has Colic

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When baby seems inconsolable for days on end, there's something more to it. Know the signs of colic and how to help soothe your baby's aches.

Being a new mom already has you losing hours of sleep each night. The last thing you want is for your baby to be uncomfortable and crying all the time. There will come a time when this happens, as it’s more common than you think. Your baby could get colic. Colic is, by definition, a condition seen in infants younger than 3 months old, marked by periods of inconsolable crying lasting for hours at a time for at least three weeks. Now, that’s a lot of sleep deprivation for both you and Baby!

If you’re not sure what’s going on with your little one, check with your pediatrician. “Babies can be sensitive and experience discomfort for various reasons,” says Jon E. Betts, M.D., of Old Harding Pediatric Associates. He says colic occurs in up to 30 – 40 percent of infants. But, before you rule it as colic, there are a few of other things it could be … like constipation or even food sensitivities.

“Constipation, which is best characterized by firm stools rather than the frequency of stools, is another reason for pain and discomfort in infants,” says Betts. “However, many infants grunt, groan and turn red in the face while trying to have a bowel movement, and this is normal and not constipation if the end product is a soft stool,” he adds.

“Food sensitivities can also cause distress,” says Betts. “Signs of food sensitivities can include diarrhea, blood or mucous in stools, excessive spitting up, vomiting or eczema. Babies can experience discomfort for many other reasons, including hunger, fatigue, excessive stimulation, or being too cold or overheated.”

Watch for Signs of Colic

When you notice that Baby’s crying more than usual and you can’t understand why, he may have colic. However, Betts states that distinguishing colic from regular crying isn’t easy, but there are some things to watch for. “All babies cry, often up to three hours per day, but colicky babies tend to cry more frequently and more intensely,” says Betts.

Did you know that colic doesn’t just come and go like an upset stomach? It can last an unbearable amount of time, wearing on your patience and nerves. Remember to stay calm while you’re soothing your little one. There is an end to it, but it might not be for a while.

“Colic generally sets in between 2 and 4 weeks of age and resolves by 3 to 4 months of age. Colicky infants can cry throughout the day but generally are worse as the day goes on, peaking in the evening hours. Babies with colic tend to pull up their legs, have distended bellies and pass gas,” he adds.

“My daughter had colic so badly that she only slept 15 – 20 minutes at a time until she was almost 3 months old,” recalls local mom Kim Haskins. “Then it just turned off like a switch.”

Tips to Soothing a Colicky Baby

“Soothing a baby with colic is generally more difficult (and at times may not be possible) than a crying infant who doesn’t have colic,” says Betts. “The cause of colic is uncertain, therefore, there’s no clear, definitive treatment. However, there are several interventions that can be tried that may prove helpful,” he adds.

Betts suggests the following:

  • Hold and rock your baby. Babies often like gentle rhythmic motion.

  • You can also lay your baby on his tummy over your knee. Pressure can help soothe an overactive tummy.

  • White noise is often very comforting for colicky babies. Hair dryers, vacuum cleaners and clothes dryers have been mainstays in the past, but noise generators and white noise apps for smart phones and tablets are often more convenient.

  • Offer a pacifier.

  • Swaddle snugly.

“If nothing seems to help and your baby remains inconsolable, talk to your pediatrician as something more serious than colic may be present,” says Betts.

Kiera Ashford is associate editor of Nashville Parent and mother of three.

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