Newsflash: Babies cry. This is normal, real, and uncomfortable. So, as a new mama, don’t be alarmed if your baby likes to cry. But when does normal crying turn into something more? What if you’re dealing with baby colic? Read on, there is hope.
What is Colic in Babies? The Rule of Three
Let’s ground ourselves in the definition of baby colic. You probably have a colic baby if your baby:
- cries for 3 hours a day,
- for at least 3 days a week,
- for 3 consecutive weeks.
Colic Symptoms in Babies
What are some other colic symptoms to look out for?
- Intense crying episodes (sometimes with predictable daily patterns)
- Inconsolable crying episodes with no apparent trigger
- Arching of back, clenching of fists, recoiling to touch, and other physical/posture changes
No doubt about it, mamas and papas can really struggle with feelings of helplessness and frustration when baby has these symptoms. But there is a reason for your baby’s extreme fussiness and there are natural ways to treat a colic baby. (So, don’t despair!)
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What Causes Colic in Babies?
The medical community doesn’t really know inconclusively what causes baby colic.
- Some chock it up to a rite of passage that usually begins at a few weeks old to 3-4 months, sometimes longer.
- Others blame it on an immature digestive tract, allergies, a developing brain/neurological system, or high-strung parents.
- Some theorize that colic children are “introverts” and are easily overstimulated.
Of course, it’s always recommended to check in with your pediatrician to rule out any potential issues and provide an accurate diagnosis.
How to Soothe a Colic Baby Naturally
If it does end up being baby colic, thankfully, there are some simple soothe a colic baby naturally and reduce or eliminate colic symptoms. Before implementing any of these remedies, check with your pediatrician first.
1. Rule out baby reflux
The first thing mamas will want to rule out is baby reflux. This condition will often mimic some of the same symptoms as baby colic and can be alleviated with natural remedies. A homeopathic remedy called Nat Phos 6X changed my daughter from a red, colicky child to a calm, happy baby. Be sure to look for the signs and symptoms of baby reflux and, if appropriate, treat this root cause of your baby’s crying.
2. Check in with a lactation consultant
If you’re a breastfeeding mom, this is so essential. There are so many anatomical issues that could be causing your baby grief! Unfortunately, most pediatricians aren’t trained to spot these conditions, so be sure you find an IBCLC-certified lactation consultant. Your baby could have a bad latch. She could be tongue-tied. He could be lip-tied. All of these issues could cause some major colic symptoms!
You also want to be sure baby is getting enough hindmilk, which is higher in fat, calms the stomach, helps with digestion, and promotes satiety. If your baby’s poop is greenish, frothy or mucuosy, this is usually a sign that he’s getting too much foremilk, which can cause digestive distress. This often happens when a breastfeeding mom has an overactive letdown or is having oversupply issues, which is very common in the first few months after giving birth.
3. Follow a clean nursing diet
If you’re a breastfeeding mama, you may also want to give up foods that can trigger baby colic symptoms. Dairy is a huge culprit, as are other common allergens like wheat/gluten, eggs, shellfish, citrus, caffeine, and spicy foods. While it’s certainly no fun to give up some of your favorite foods, it’s worth your effort. After eliminating these foods from your diet, give it a good 2-4 weeks to be sure they are cleared from your body and milk. Consider looking into paleo recipes, as these are often free from the most common allergens.
4. Try a different formula
If baby is formula-fed, your child may be reacting to something in the specific variety you’re using. Some moms find that changing formulas can make all the difference! Check out this post for the best baby formula, and consider trying this homemade formula recipe—it’s alive, rich in bioavailable nutrients, and easier to digest than many powdered alternatives.
5. Be sure baby is well rested
Watch your baby’s signs closely and be sure she doesn’t get overtired. Experiment with wakeful time periods to see what works best. Generally speaking, newborns need to be back to bed within 1-2 hours of waking. For some, it’s only 45 minutes! A good sign that you caught your baby in time is that she goes to bed without any struggle. If he’s crying like crazy, you missed the window. Next time, try putting baby down 15 minutes earlier.
6. Create closeness
In the last weeks of life in the womb, your baby’s environment is snug, dark, cozy, and warm. When babies come out into open space to join the rest of humanity, it can be a jarring and uncomfortable transition. Some even consider the first three months of a newborn’s life the “4th trimester.”
- Babywearing: You can help your colic baby transition to the world by babywearing. The closeness and warmth created by babywearing can soothe colicky babies when nothing else will. Even better, babywear skin-to-skin. Studies show that skin-to-skin contact can regulate baby’s breathing, temperature, heart rate, blood sugar and blood pressure. It can also regulate mood.
- Swaddling: This practice creates some of the comfort and closeness baby is accustomed to. Additionally, some babies wake themselves up regularly with their startle reflex. Others inadvertently scratch themselves. A swaddle will solve both of these problems. Here’s how to swaddle a baby.
- Co-sleep. Some moms bypass the swaddle entirely and co-sleep whenever possible (naps and nighttime). The majority of the world practice this sleeping arrangement. By creating this closeness and warmth, you can help soothe your a colic baby.
7. Create some noise
The womb was not only snug, but it was also noisy. Between mama’s heartbeat and digestion, the sound in utero is intense—my childbirth educator said it’s the equivalent of having a vacuum cleaner on at all times! We like this noisemaker, as it’s fan-based and not too intense. My brother ended up playing a hairdryer CD on repeat to keep his baby boy asleep at night! I’ve also heard amazing things about the Sleep Genius app. When we soothe baby to sleep, you can also make ssshhing noises or hum loudly. This noise can often refocus their attention, comfort them, and reduce crying overall.
8. Let baby suck
Babies have a very powerful sucking reflux that needs to be satiated. Babies have a hand-to-mouth reflex too, which causes them to place their hands, fingers, or fists into their mouth as a way to comfort and soothe themselves. You can also try pacifiers when in a pinch. If baby is breastfed, let him feed on demand as much as possible. Bottom line, let your colic baby use their natural refluxes to comfort and soothe themselves.
9. Get fresh air
Something about the fresh air is magical. When I couldn’t soothe Griffin or Paloma, I’d always bundle us up and head outdoors. The sun, the wind, the birds chirping, the movement, all of these elements helped to shift the mood and comfort my babies.
10. Take warm baths
Alternatively, some babies love a warm bath. It can help soothe their tummies, as well as their spirits. You don’t have to add any soap or bubble bath. Just warm water and a peaceful bathroom environment. You can also warm a wash cloth and put it on baby’s tummy if you don’t want to draw a bath every day.
11. Create movement
With Griffin, I would rock him for hours in my arms. With Paloma, I’d bounce her on an exercise ball for hours. Some moms walk around the house with baby in a sling or put baby in the stroller and walk the neighborhood. Swings and vibrating recliners/rockers can also be fantastic tools for parents of colicky children. Do whatever works for you! The point is movement can calm and soothe an upset child.
12. Do bodywork
Certain baby exercises can do wonders for releasing trapped gas. You can try doing bicycle legs, bent legs, or put their bellies on your thighs for gentle pressure. You can also do gentle baby massage.
Another option is to get your baby adjusted by a chiropractor. Many times, during the birth process, baby’s body gets out of alignment, which can affect everything from sleep, to bowel movements, to digestion. Just be sure to find someone who specializes in infant care. Here’s how to find a pediatric chiropractor near you.
13. Use digestive support
Some practitioners believe colic is related to baby’s immature digestion. The trapped gas, sluggish digestive tract, and acid reflux (all babies have some form) can lead to colic symptoms.
- Try herbal drops, like Dr. Christopher’s Kid-e-Col and gripe water work great.
- Drink fennel tea if you’re breastfeeding to calm baby’s digestive system.
- Try baby probiotics. Babies need bifida bacteria for their developing digestive systems. The purest infant probiotic on the market, with no added fillers, is available here. (It is very pricey but a little goes a long way and this bottle will probably last your baby’s first year of life!)
- Try homeopathic remedies: Nat Phos 6X is a natural cell salt, something our body already produces, but it can be underproduced in newborns.
The key is to work with your healthcare provider to find the right digestive aid for your baby, if appropriate.
14. Get help
Despite all of our best efforts, sometimes babies just cry and there is nothing we can do to make it better. Watching this unfold as a parent is heartbreaking… and overwhelming.
Moms of colicky babies need to take extra good care of themselves—these moms have a significantly increased risk for postpartum depression. Have a friend, family member, or babysitter come over a few times a week so you can get a break if the crying is too intense. On the weekends, have your partner take over, so you can get some extra rest and light exercise. Talk to a counselor or other moms for support. Go on medication if need be. Bottom line: Don’t go through this alone.
How Other Mamas Helped Soothe a Colic Baby Naturally
I asked the moms on my Facebook page what they did to ease colic symptoms. Here are some of their responses:
- My daughter had really bad colic. At 2 am and almost 24 hours of no sleep, I turned on my hair dryer. Instant quiet. As soon as I turned it off, she’d start crying. Thank God my hair dryer had a cool setting. My daughter, hair dryer, and I spent a lot of time rocking together. — Kimberly G.
- My second child was extremely colicky. I tried wearing him, different holding positions ( tummy down on my arm), catnip tea, among others. Our saving grace was a chiropractor. He was amazing. After our first visit, it was like we had a new little boy that same night. — Kimberly H.
- My first baby was extremely colicky until almost 6 months. It was really one of the hardest experiences of my life! Wearing her a lot, infant massage, and being proactive about helping her get gas out (squishing her legs up and doing bicycles) were super helpful. Also, we would put her infant tub under the warm water and let it run on her belly—this would almost always bring her relief! — Kelley S.
- Brauer’s homeopathic colic formula. — Simba & Mama
- Catnip tea. — Ashley G.
- Babywearing, bouncing… nothing really helped much. It was an agonizing three months. — Julie T.
Take Heart, Baby Colic Will Pass…
Be patient with implementing these natural remedies—some can take time to see the effects, particularly the diet/digestive-related ones. Know that your baby (and you!) will get through this phase. For most, colic lasts for the first 3-4 months of life. You can look at it as “growing pains,” as baby makes the transition to life on the outside. You will get through it and get to the other side.
How About You?
Was your baby colicky? What seemed to help him/her? Share with us in the comments below!