Baby crying

When it comes to life-changing experiences, having a baby tops the list. A newborn alters every aspect of your life, and even with an “easy” baby, the transition is an enormous one. However, when your baby has colic, settling into your new role can seem like an insurmountable task. Beyond suddenly being responsible for someone else’s every need while feeling exhaustion you’ve never before experienced, you may also worry that your baby is sick or that you’re doing something wrong.

The good news is that in all likelihood your baby is perfectly fine and so are you. Even so, colic is difficult to manage, which is why learning methods to soothe a colicky baby can ease the pain, stress, and frustration for both your baby and you. But first, let’s look at what colic is.

What is Colic?

Colic does not have one well-defined definition, but it is typically described by the “Rule of Threes.” That is, when a healthy infant cries for more than three hours a day, at least three days a week, and for longer than three weeks time.

Thankfully, colic does not cause any short- or long-term medical problems and it usually resolves itself by the time the infant is three months old. However, while this may be welcome news to worried parents, it does little to relieve the stress of caring for a child who cries for extended periods of time. “This too shall pass” is a hopeful adage, but for more immediate help, try these tips to soothe a colicky baby.

1. Determine if there is an underlying cause

Numerous studies have taken place to determine the cause of colic, but none have been conclusive. While theories abound, it appears that many factors could be at play. However, some infant health issues have similar symptoms to colic, making it important to rule out any medical conditions your baby may be dealing with.

For example, due to their developing digestive systems, some babies don’t easily break down certain food groups, like dairy. These food intolerances can cause cramping, gas, and pain that result in prolonged crying. Acid reflux is another common cause of excessive crying. If your baby cries more than you think is normal, consult with your doctor to rule out any health problems.

2. Hold your baby

Contrary to popular belief, you can’t spoil infants by holding them too much. In fact, a study published in 2017 in Current Biology proves that human touch is crucial to an infant’s healthy brain development.

The benefits of touch can be short-term too. Holding your baby for several hours a day, even when they’re calm, can help soothe the symptoms of a colicky baby. Of course, every baby is different and may prefer different ways of being held. Try some of the following options to see if any work to soothe your baby:

  • Swaddle – Some babies love the feeling of being securely wrapped; others prefer being able to move their limbs around.
  • Hold your infant upright – If gas is ever a contributing factor to your baby’s discomfort, holding them upright can help, especially immediately after feedings.
  • Use the football hold – Gently roll your baby onto your arm so they’re face down with their head and chest cradled on your forearm near your elbow and their legs straddle your lower arm.
  • Move around – It’s no secret that infants love movement. Repetitive walking, bouncing, or rocking can help soothe a colicky baby.
  • Wear your baby – Carrier and sling options abound and have the added benefit of freeing up your hands. Visit a local baby goods store and try a variety to find one that’s comfortable for both you and your baby.

3. Focus on the belly

Sometimes soothing an infant’s belly can help soothe their colic. Even if your baby doesn’t suffer from food intolerances or acid reflux, they can sometimes have an upset stomach or gas buildup that causes discomfort.

  • Try placing a warm (not hot!) towel or water bottle on your baby’s abdomen for a few minutes. This can help relax their muscles and aid in digestion.
  • Rubbing your hand over your baby’s belly in gentle circles can also be soothing to your infant.
  • If your baby doesn’t mind tummy time, a colicky time of day can be a good time to try it. The pressure on their stomach may help soothe them. However, if they resist tummy time during calm moments in the day, you may not want to take the chance of further upsetting your colicky baby.

4. If breastfeeding, ensure your baby is getting hindmilk

Some studies indicate that breastfed babies who get more foremilk than hindmilk are more likely to be colicky. Hindmilk is the milk a baby gets later in a breastfeeding session and it contains more fat than foremilk.

If a mother has a large milk supply, the baby may feel full before they get to the hindmilk. Another reason babies don’t get enough hindmilk is because the mother switches the infant to the other breast before the first is drained. By keeping your baby on one breast until it is empty, even if that means only feeding your baby on one side at a time, you may help reduce your baby’s colic.

5. Take care of your own well-being

Having a colicky baby can be one of the greatest trials of early parenthood. It is exhausting and stressful. Studies have even shown a link between colic and postpartum depression, which only serves to highlight its seriousness. It is vital to make sure that your baby’s colic does not derail your own mental and physical well-being. In a bit of a Catch 22, when a baby senses a parent’s stress, it can lead to more crying, which only exacerbates both problems.

Sometimes the simple act of taking a break can soothe your colicky baby. Whether this means laying them down somewhere safe for a few minutes or taking turns with your partner during your infant’s most colicky times of day, a short break to relax and breathe can make a big difference for you and your baby.

Soothing a colicky baby is not as simple as learning a one-size-fits-all solution, but it doesn’t have to be impossible either. Try out a combination of the tips above to find what works for your infant. And take heart! Before you know it, this too shall pass.