Crying and Colic
All babies cry. Most babies cry a lot. Some babies are more easily comforted, others can routinely work themselves into a frenzy. Of course it sends your heart racing. That’s Mother Nature’s way of insuring that the human race survives.
Colic is traditionally defined as 3 hours or more of daily crying, at least three times a week. 20% of babies are officially diagnosed with colic. But you could think of colic as simply crying that goes on and on and does not seem to have a cause.
It probably doesn’t matter if it’s actually colic, unless when your baby’s crying gets almost unbearable, it helps you to remember that there’s nothing wrong with you or him; it’s just colic. Whether it’s actually colic, or just lots of crying, it is always stressful, and it helps to know that it’s normal, it won’t last more than 3 months, and you will eventually have a perfectly cheerful baby.
Research shows that babies who are held or carried more (both during the colic spells and at other times) are definitely less susceptible to colic. It is possible that wearing babies is so soothing that they are less overwhelmed throughout the day and build up less tension. I used to think of myself as the lightning rod for my infants.
But another way to interpret this data is just that some babies need to be held virtually all the time. When they are put down, they cry. When they are picked up, they often stop.
“What causes all this crying?”
The truth is that we don’t know what causes colic. There may be differing contributing causes for different babies, such as sensitivity to formula, food allergies, or gastrointestinal upset.
In one study of colicky babies, when the moms stopped drinking cow’s milk, half the babies’ colic vanished. The other half, unfortunately, kept crying.
One easy thing to try that helps many irritable babies is to cut down on the foremilk they’re eating. You do this by pumping a little milk, throwing it away, and then nursing your baby. That’s because the initial milk — the foremilk — that comes out when the baby begins nursing is especially rich. Some moms make a lot of it, and some babies have such delicate digestion that it irritates them. By skipping some of the foremilk, the baby can digest the milk better, and for many babies, their crying stops.
Another miracle cure for colic was reported in the January 2007 issue of Pediatrics. The researchers had a 95% success rate by giving babies probiotics AND eliminating cow’s milk. They gave colicy babies who were breastfeeding 5 drops daily of beneficial gut bacteria (the probiotic L. reuteri). All the moms were asked to eliminate cows milk from their diet. 95% of the probiotic babies improved, as opposed to only 7 percent of the control babies, with crying improving somewhat in the first week and dramatically within a month. If this study is repeated with the same results by other researchers, probiotics will soon be prescribed as the cure for colic. In the meantime, any parent with a colicky baby will probably want to conduct their own private experiment to see if it works on their baby.
They must be dazzled and overwhelmed by the feast for the senses that greets them with every new day in the world. Their brains and nervous systems need time to mature so they can handle all the stimulation we take for granted.
Calm Begets Calm
If you can’t calm yourself, put the baby down. It helps babies to be held while they cry (true for most of us) but not if the adult is experiencing extreme anger or anxiety.
If you think you might lose control and shake the baby, it simply isn’t worth taking that chance. Put the baby in a safe place (crib, car seat, strapped in a baby seat or swing) and shut the door to that room. Put on headphones so that you can’t hear the crying through the door. Now do whatever you need to do to calm yourself down. Step outside for a moment or open the window, and breath in some fresh air. Feel your tension draining out through your feet. Call another adult to come over. Remind yourself not to take the crying personally, and that this too shall pass.
It also might help you to remember the old proverb about children each offering a finite amount of grief to their parents, just so you know that you’re getting it over with up front and the teenage years will be easy!
DID YOU KNOW?
In cultures where the infant is held or worn fairly constantly, colic in newborns is apparently virtually unknown and babies rarely cry for long. We don’t know if that’s the baby wearing or the diet in those cultures, or something else entirely.
These are techniques to use when your baby cries, but they are also preventive tools to keep your infant from getting over-stimulated all day long:
1. Hold or wear your baby
…as much as you can. As Dr. Sears says: “In counseling parents of fussy babies, we strive for two goals: to mellow the temperament of the baby and to increase the sensitivity of the parents. Baby wearing helps foster both of these goals. By creating an organized, womb-like, environment, wearing lessens a baby’s need to cry.” An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
2. Swaddle your baby.
Most newborns like to be wrapped securely. It reminds them of their snug womb. I hasten to add that as always you should listen to your baby, since there are babies who don’t like to be swaddled. And of course no baby as babies get older they need to move so you’ll want to swaddle only for sleeping, and only then if it helps the crying.
3. Rhythmic motion:
Again, reminiscent of the womb. Rocking works for some babies, but most of the time when they’re upset, more intense motion is called for. Some parents swear by baby swings or baby hammocks, others by putting the baby in a car seat and driving. But these techniques have their limits, usually the infant needs to be held at the same time that they’re moving. Some parents dance, some go up and down steps, some jump on mattresses, many develop the bobbing, swaying motion I call the Mom’s dance. Experiment to see what works for your baby.
4. White Noise:
Soothing sounds can muffle or block out the jarring traffic horns or even voices that can jangle and over-stimulate baby nerves. I found new age chanting to be effective, some people swear by their vacuum cleaner or white noise machine, others just whisper repetitive shushing noises. You don’t need to be loud enough to shock or scare your child, just provide a soothing, calming, repetitive sound.
5. Nurse your baby.
For some babies, nursing is a guaranteed instant soother. Why work any harder than that if you don’t have to? And, for the record, babies fed on a schedule are more likely to have colic. Feed your baby whenever he or she asks, and colic is less likely.
6. Explore other “cures.”
Some babies have food allergies, and if you change the formula, or if the breastfeeding mother changes her diet, the crying stops. Often a diet free of cows milk, wheat, or other common allergens is a miracle cure. Every parent of a colicky baby should try probiotics, as mentioned above. Some moms swear by infant massage. If you try all these suggestions and your baby keeps crying, by all means talk to your doctor, and keep asking the parents you know what worked for them. And hang in there. Sooner or later, your little screamer will be a perfectly charming baby.