Babies and Colic Pain, Explanation and Care
It’s normal for newborns and infants to cry, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to listen to. I’m used to listening to babies cry all day long at home, at my practice, and in the emergency room.
I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it, and hearing my own kids crying really pulls at my heartstrings. So many parents ask at their 1- or 2-month visit about incessant crying.
It can be tiring and painful for new parents to hear their babies cry, especially when they can’t figure out what baby needs. The baby seems to be distressed for no apparent reason, and nothing you try seems to help.
- Is the baby hungry?
- Is he tired?
- Is he uncomfortable with something?
- Is he in pain?
- Is he allergic to something you ate in your milk?
- Does he have reflux?
Your little one can’t express themself verbally yet, so you will need to figure out what type of crying means and try different remedies.
What is Colic Exactly?
Colic is the word used to describe a baby crying for over 3 hours a day, more than three days per week, for three weeks in a row. This isn’t much of a definition since babies can cry for all kinds of reasons.
Colic is common in babies, and every year about 15% of newborns are born with it.
Typically a baby will fuss the most between 4 to 8 weeks, which should decrease as time goes on. Even without any treatment or remedies, the amount of crying should decrease naturally over time.
This doesn’t make it any easier for a new parent, though. It’s natural to want your baby to be happy rather than screaming, and it can be frustrating not knowing how to soothe your little one.
Colicky babies often cry within the same few hours each day, typically during the evening. They might seem to be in pain, but we can’t usually find anything wrong.
Symptoms of Colic
Colic is defined as infants crying for three or more hours a day and generally occurs in the first few months. However, it’s difficult to pin down exactly how many hours of colicky behavior are considered normal because it varies by infant.
The features of colic may include the following:
The baby has become less fussy over time, and now the fussiness often occurs in the evening. Then, the baby would cry intensely or show signs of pain rather than a need for food.
Facial discoloring such as reddened face and paler skin around the mouth; bodily tension like pulled up legs, arms clenched fists arched back and tense abdomen.
Infants experience relief after passing gas or having a bowel movement. Gas is likely the result of swallowed air during prolonged crying.
How to Treat a Baby with Infantile Colic
I’ve lost count of how many parents ask me the best way to soothe a colicky baby, but unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer. However, if anyone does come up with one, I think they’d win the next Nobel Prize!
One article in the respected Pediatrics Journal showed there isn’t one individual natural medicine that can soothe colic every time in every baby.
Some remedies might work for some babies, while others might work for other ones. However, there are still some good tips you can try to help with colic episodes.
I’ve been through colicky periods with my children, and I know many colic tips are trial and error. Some might work for one baby but not another or work one day but not the next.
Why Do Babies Cry with Colic?
In my opinion, babies between 4 and 8 weeks of age are similar to fourth-trimester babies in the way they want to feel safe and secure in the womb again.
This includes feeling tightly swaddled, cradled, or held with soft sounds and gentle movements. First of all, check these four things:
- Hunger causes crying, so make sure the baby is well-fed.
- Make sure the diaper is clean and dry.
- Check baby is dressed for the climate and isn’t too cold or hot.
- Gas pains can be painful for baby so try to burp them and keep them upright after a feed (to prevent them from swallowing air).
I’m sure you’ve already tried those solutions, but they’re still the top four reasons baby might be crying.
Let’s look at some other complementary health remedies which work on some babies with colic:
There has been some doubt about how safe white noise is, but I don’t see how a few minutes of white noise (ocean waves or running water, for example) could be harmful. Some parents like to use sound machines to soothe their babies.
White noise is a sound that covers up other noises, so it can help you fall asleep. It has many examples like the steady hum of fans or static on TV and radio.
Your baby experienced movement when you were pregnant. From walking and doing chores to simply lying down, blood flow from your heart meant the baby was shaking all the time gently and got used to this sensation.
A lot of babies enjoy this type of movement outside the womb and find it calming. My kids loved a vibrating swing, so you might like to try a vibrating chair and see if your baby likes it.
This is another topic not everyone agrees on. For example, the startle reflex (Moro reflex) often wakes babies from sleep, which is why I like swaddling.
If you want to try, your baby should be on their back with no pillows, blanket, toys, or fabric near their face. To minimize the risk of suffocation, only swaddle from the shoulders down.
Soothers and Pacifiers
Babies will suck to soothe themselves. However, if your baby is drinking well from the breast and steadily gaining weight, introducing a pacifier can be helpful. There are some pacifier use tips to check out first.
Causes of Colic
Researchers do not know what causes colic, but it usually begins late in the first month of life and resolves independently. It may result from numerous factors, such as why infants experience it at certain times or if they tend to cry more often than others during this age period.
Many factors contribute to infantile colic, and all of them could have a significant impact. Some different possible explanations include:
1) The digestive system is not fully developed in infants; food allergy or intolerances may be the culprit
2) There can also be an imbalance of healthy bacteria within the baby’s body, leading to pain from gas formation in the gastrointestinal tract.
3) It might even just come down to overfeeding, underfeeding, or infrequent burping as well! And it doesn’t stop there; early form migraine headaches might actually cause this colic cry.
The risk factors of colic are not well-understood. Research has not shown differences in the development of this condition when considering sex, preterm and full-term pregnancies, formula bottle-fed babies vs. babies who drank breast milk, infants born to maternal smoking during pregnancy or after delivery, and family history.
In the short term, colic doesn’t cause medical problems for a child. However, research shows it impacts parents’ well-being: increased risk of postpartum depression in mothers and early cessation of breastfeeding are just two examples.
Some babies cry more than others because they take time to adjust and adapt. Also, newborns are sensitive, which makes it difficult for them to handle loud noises, bright lights, etc., but some infants can get through this better than others due to their temperament or personality types.
Most babies show emotions by crying as a way of getting used to while adjusting themselves in an uncomfortable environment, so don’t let that bother you if your baby frequently cries at first until they get comfortable being around new things like noise levels, brightness, etc.
Some babies are unable to self-soothe. Their nervous system is still developing, meaning they get overwhelmed by stimulation easily. As the baby gets older, they will be better able to control their nervous system, and colic symptoms should lessen as this happens.
What is Renal Colic?
Renal colic is NOT baby colic. Acute renal colic is a severe and sudden pain that occurs over the costovertebral angle. The intense cramp-like pain typically extends from the groin to the abdomen, but it may also extend to other areas such as the testicle or upper thigh. It can be caused by various reasons, like stones in the ureter blocking urine flow, which obstruct the urinary tract and is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting symptoms.
Other symptoms include flank pain that moves to the groin and fluctuates in severity, often indicative of renal colic. Usually lasting 20-60 minutes, these waves of severe pain can be treated if they are caught early enough.
People who experience flank or abdominal pains with fluctuations in intensity accompanied by the change from one location to another may have a condition known as renal colic, which typically lasts for about an hour before treatment is necessary.
What is Biliary Colic?
Biliary colic is also NOT baby colic. After a large, fatty meal, the gallbladder contracts and can cause abdominal pain due to obstruction by stones in the biliary tree. This is called biliary colic because it typically occurs after eating.
Kidney or urinary stones
Not having stones does not mean you’re free and clear from biliary colic. This pain usually results from structural or functional disorders, which can sometimes be treated with laparoscopic cholecystectomy (keyhole removal surgery). Biliary colic in young women without stones may also occur due to these reasons as well.
Over the Counter Colic Remedies – Colic Treatment
To treat infant colic, Ovol (Simethicone) and Gripe Water are popular colic remedies. Although there isn’t much clinical evidence these are effective, they don’t seem to cause any harm, and some parents swear by them.
A common treatment for gas is simethicone, which safely breaks up bubbles in a baby’s stomach. If your newborn has been diagnosed with colic, you can also try gripe water to help them feel better quickly.
Take a Breather
It’s essential to take a break whenever you can. Maybe a family member or friend can watch the baby if you need a breather. Even a short stroll outside, a warm bath, or a brief nap can be much appreciated by an overtired parent.
It’s normal for parents to experience sleep deprivation as well as missing out on socializing and exercise. This can make you feel drained and emotional. Some ‘me’ time is vital for frazzled parents.
See Your Doctor
If you’re worried there is more to your baby’s crying, make an appointment with your doctor. Reflux (heartburn), food allergy, colicky pain, intestinal colic, medical history, and bladder infections are just some medical problems that can cause excessive crying.
If the above tips don’t seem to work, it’s best to check there isn’t a medical reason behind the colic.
It’s a fact that colic can be hard to treat, so I recommend a trial and error approach. Colic invariably goes away with time. So you need to be patient.
If you still have questions or concerns about your baby’s crying, it’s best to talk with your baby’s doctor.
You might also be interested in finding out how much sleep your baby needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is colic?
Colic is diagnosed in babies who cry more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week, for more than three weeks.
Does my colic baby have kidney stones?
Kidney stones are small, hard mineral deposits that form in the kidneys. They’re most common in adults but can affect children and infants as well.
What is the most common cause of colic?
We don’t often find a reason why some babies cry excessively. A fussy baby may be hungry, tired, or wet.
How can I help my baby with colic pain?
Some strategies can help a baby with colic. Babies are used to movement when in the womb and are in a tight environment. Consider using movement and swaddling to help soothe your baby. Some babies like to suck on a soother or pacifier, and others respond well to colic baby drops.
My baby has colic, and I am overwhelmed. What can I do?
Take a breather! Enlist your village to take a break from your baby if possible. Catch up with friends or partners, go for a walk, or take a nap. Hearing your baby cry all the time can be tiring and stressful. It would help if you had some respite too.
Dina is a wife, mother of 4, and adrenaline junky. She loves to share children’s health information from her professional and personal experience. More About Dr Dina.