A few weeks after my daughter was born, we got slapped with the diagnosis of colic by her pediatrician. By the time she got that label, I was completed exhausted in every way possible! She had been crying essentially nonstop (day and night) for a month! Nothing we tried helped to soothe her. The pediatrician offered a label with no real solution besides “hang in there, it’ll be over soon”. I felt helpless and defeated, so I started scouring the internet and talking to other moms who had experience with colicky babies. Sadly, there wasn’t much information out there and I had to learn a lot on my own. I’m hoping to change that today by giving you my top tips for surviving the colicky phase!
What is colic?
Colic is when a healthy baby cries for extended periods of time (usually at least 3 hours a day) for no obvious reason. According to this article from John’s Hopkins Medicine, a baby likely has colic if they cry for at least 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week for at least 3 weeks. Babies with colic are often fussy (having difficulty self-soothing), gassy, and don't sleep well. Colic can be challenging for newborn parents as there tends to be no way to comfort or soothe their babies. There is no known cause for colic and babies tend to grow out of it between 3 and 6 months.
Tip #1: Mimic the womb
The first three months after giving birth is considered the fourth trimester. While the current human gestation cycle is roughly 40 months; it is suspected that it is supposed to be 12 weeks longer! Scientists hypothesize that the gestation period gradually decreased to accommodate the human baby’s head size. As the cerebral cortex continued to grow and evolve over time, it would be impossible for mothers to have safe and successful vaginal births. This resulted in babies being born 12 weeks sooner than developmentally appropriate. This is why newborns in the first 3 months continue to require an environment that very closely mimics the womb.
There are several theories about the cause of colic. However, the one that makes the most sense to me is that “colicky” babies tend to be more sensitive to the change in environment (from womb to the outside world) than other babies. The womb is dark and warm with constant connection to mom (e.g. her voice, heartbeat, and movement). Once born, a lot changes all at once and this is often completely overwhelming for highly sensitive babies. I recommend attempting to mimic this environment as often as possible to ease your baby’s transition into the world. I will get into some of the specific ways I did this in the next few tips!
Tip #2: Learn the 5 S’s
My doula recommended reading “The Happiest Baby on the Block” by Dr. Harvey Harp (A MUST READ FOR ALL NEW MOMS). In the book, he introduces the concept of The Five S’s. The Five Ss are Swaddle, Side-Stomach Position, Shush, Swing, and Suck. Dr Karp does an amazing job of explaining this concept in this article! The Five S’s help to mimic the womb by creating a tight space (swaddle), inverting baby’s position (side-stomach), making womb-like sounds (shush), and introducing movement (swing). Newborns naturally find sucking soothing as it correlates to being fed and closeness with mom.
I can’t tell you how much of a life saver this technique was during my daughter’s fussier moments. The S’s should be completed in a sequence starting with swaddling your baby. By the time we got to swinging (or rocking), she had calmed significantly. It didn’t work every time, but it worked often enough for me to swear by it!
Tip #3: Wear your baby
Another way to mimic the womb is to maintain closeness between mother and baby as much as possible. The only world your baby has ever known is inside of your belly; constantly hearing your voice and your heartbeat. You are a natural source of comfort and safety! Being in close, skin to skin (if possible) contact with mom as often as possible is crucial for soothing a colicky baby. I recognize that this can be overwhelming and draining for a new mom who needs to get up and get things done. You can’t spend all day holding your baby! I suggest using a wrap or carrier to wear your baby while allowing your hands to be free to cook, eat or accomplish any other important tasks. There are plenty of baby carriers available out there. I preferred the boba wrap because it was easy to adjust and easy to clean! I’m not sure if this is true for all colicky babies, but my daughter took very short and inconsistent naps. She rarely slept if someone wasn’t holding her, so I often felt glued to the couch all day long, even during her naps. Introducing a baby carrier was a game-changer for us. It allowed me to get things done while she napped in the carrier. I highly recommend giving one of these a try!
Tip #4: Go to a chiropractor
I recognize that not everyone feels comfortable with the idea of a chiropractor. However, I’ve found them to be incredibly useful for my pelvic and back pain during pregnancy. When my daughter started showing signs of colic along with digestive issues (e.g. reflux and gas), my doula recommended taking her to a chiropractor. At first, I was extremely skeptical about any adjustments being done on my newborn. However, I found a highly recommended pediatric chiropractor in the area and gave it a shot. I discovered that most of the work the chiropractor did was massage and gentle manipulation of the joints. The chiropractor educated me on massages and positions to help manage my daughters gas pains and did gentle adjustments on her lower back and hips. I noticed a major change in her digestive issues after a few in-office treatments and consistent application of the chiropractor’s recommended strategies. I am not a doctor, so I am only reporting my personal experiences! I recommend doing your own research about chiropractic adjustments in babies and determine if this is something that might work for you and your baby!
Tip #5: Abandon all expectations
I am doing everyone a disservice if I don’t include this tip. This is especially important for first time parents! During pregnancy, we dream about who our baby will be and what our life will look like with the entry of this new child. We imagine losing a few hours a sleep at night but having large chunks of free time because our newborn will sleep most of the day and night (as promised in most “what to expect” books). By the way, check out my favorite pregnancy and birth books! We plan for their feeding and sleep schedules and set up bassinets and cribs in preparation for your baby to sleep peacefully within them. Most of us don’t envision spending five hours a day holding an uncontrollable, screaming infant. We never imagine days and weeks doing nothing but sitting on the couch holding a baby who refuses to sleep anywhere but in your arms.
While this article targets parents with colicky babies, this advice rings true for all new and expectant parents: abandon all of your previous expectations. While all babies need similar things, each child is an individual. Your baby’s needs may be very different from what you expected. Further, they may be different from the “rules” dictated by society! I spent many nights sitting up and holding my daughter while she slept, unable to successfully transfer her to a bassinet and terrified to fall asleep with her in bed with us. Eventually, the exhaustion got the best of me and we coslept for about a month before successfully getting her to sleep a few hours at a time in her bassinet. While I recognize the dangers of cosleeping, it ended up being the only way that our family got any sleep during the fourth trimester! Don’t torture yourself trying to live up to standards or expectations that are unreasonable for your family! Trust your instincts and remember that the safest and most loving place for your child to be is with his or her parents!
I hope this has been helpful. Let me know in the comments any other strategies or tips that may be helpful!