Pediatric Associates of the NW Blogs

Coping with Colic

M. Allison Baynham, MD
November 16, 2018 08:30AM

I was so happy when I first heard my baby cry after delivery because in my world, that meant that she was fine, and we were good to go.  But then…  she kept crying. No matter what we did. “Babies cry!” I was told.  Well, yes.  But don’t they stop at some point?  Infant colic is still somewhat mysterious, and while its effects are not long lasting on the newborn, its impact on family stress can last well after the crying has stopped.   Ask any parent who has had a child with colic and they invariably shudder upon hearing the word.  I am still adjusting to life with my new normal-crying baby, and now we even brave public outings! 

What is colic?

The term “colic” is loosely defined as episodes of crying for no reason that last for 3 or more hours per day 3 or more days per week in an infant 0 to 3 months old. It tends to peak around 6 weeks and then improve with about 90% resolution by 8-9 weeks and >98% resolution by 12 weeks.  Colic affects 8-40% of infants with similar distribution between males and females. 

Colic is exhausting.  Parents describe the cry of colic as “distressing, urgent, grating, piercing, and irritating.” It is louder and higher pitched than other crying, and parents often report it sounds like the infant is in pain or “screaming.”  Aka, a total nightmare for parents.

What causes colic?

No one knows what causes colic. There are a lot of theories including gastrointestinal distress, early migraine, over or under feeding, milk protein allergy, or alterations in the microbiome which is where many of the treatment suggestions come from.  There is some association with maternal anxiety (though colic will induce anxiety in anyone forced to listen to it for more than 10 minutes!), paternal depression, and “emotional tension” early in pregnancy (when Moms are trying to hide the news until they reach the 12 week mark and dealing with all the planning/turmoil/excitement/emotion alone so tension is unavoidable the first trimester.)

How can I prevent or treat colic?

While there is no way to prevent colic, there are several things to try to help manage the fussiness.  Soothing techniques include frequent burping, pacifier use (if breastfeeding, this is fine to use once latch is established. Do not wait 1 month to try this!), taking a walk, rocking, going outside, putting baby in a low stimulation environment, infant swing, warm bath, tummy massage, swaddling, white noise, or an audio of heartbeats.  Probiotics, simethicone, gripe water, and dairy elimination are all things to try and may or may not be helpful.  We do not recommend chiropractic manipulations or acupuncture for colic.

How can I cope with colic?

It is normal to feel angry, frustrated, helpless, and guilty when you have an infant with colic.  You feel guilty that you’re angry at your baby, helpless that you can’t fix it, frustrated that you’re trying and it’s not working, and more guilt on top of guilt because you can’t help your screaming infant.  Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s easy.  You need to take care of yourself to be able to take care of your baby.  Take breaks and ask for help. Get your partner involved early.  Literally the only thing a male partner cannot do to help you is physically breastfeed, so anything else is fair game.   If you are reaching your breaking point, it is ok to put your baby in a safe place and walk away for a few minutes.  I would have been happy to hold my baby if it would have helped, but she screamed whether I was holding her or not, so at times I just had to put her down and give myself a mental breather.  This is ok!   

What are the lasting effects of colic?

Colic is benign and self-limited and will not have a lasting effect on your baby, but it is associated with an increased risk of postpartum depression, early cessation of breast feeding, and resorting to harming the infant.

If at any time you have thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, call your healthcare provider immediately and if your provider is not available, go to the ER or call 911.