Surviving Colic

Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC

MAY 24, 2017


The Witching Hour, the Arsenic Hour … whatever you want to call it, ask any parent of a newborn what the hours between 3 p.m. - 8 p.m. might look like, and chances are high that they will tell you it’s not pretty … a warm, fuzzy Facebook moment … not so much.

If you are a new parent suffering through the late afternoon/early evening hours, know that you are not alone. Your baby’s fussiness is very common and the good news is that for the majority, this won’t last.

Fussiness typically peaks at around six weeks of age, with about three hours of crying per day. (I do understand that three hours of crying can feel like endless torture, but if you really time it, it’s really just about that amount of time.) After six weeks of age, the fussiness starts to diminish to about one to two hours a day by about the three- to four-month mark. As long as baby is generally peaceful the rest of the day and is able to calm within a few hours, you’re in the norm.

The “rule of 3” is often a good way to know if your baby’s fussiness is outside the norm. That is, crying for three or more hours per day for at least three days a week lasting for three weeks or longer. Now that is torture and I wouldn’t advise waiting until the third week to put a call in to your pediatrician.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children’s website, about one-fifth of babies develop colic which begins usually between weeks two to four of life and is characterized by inconsolable crying, that can go on around the clock though often worse in the early evening. While some babies' colic can be related to extreme gassiness, there is no definitive explanation as to what causes colic. “Most often, colic means simply that the child is unusually sensitive to stimulation of cannot ‘self-console’ or regulate his nervous system. (Also known as an immature nervous system.) As she matures, this inability to self-console — marked by constant crying — will improve. Generally this ‘colicky crying ‘will stop by three to four months, but it can last until six months of age." 

So how to survive? First and most importantly, start with your pediatrician. The more accurate information you can relay to your provider the better. Keep notes tracking your baby’s fussiness. Three minutes can seem like three hours, and when you are sleep deprived you can’t remember from one day to the next, so tracking/recording your baby’s actual patterns gives your provider much needed information in understanding what is really going on with your baby.

If you are breastfeeding, talk to your pediatrician about whether you should eliminate certain foods from your diet such as caffeine, onions, cabbage, broccoli and/or dairy. If you are formula feeding, ask your doctor whether you should make a switch to a different kind of formula.

  • Baby carriers can be a lifesaver for those little ones that only find comfort when they are in your arms and when you are moving.
  • White noise, such as from the vacuum, the hair dryer, a white noise machine or app on your phone can be a fix for some.
  • Gentle bouncing holding baby in your arms while sitting on a yoga ball, vibrations either from a vibrating seat, a ride in the car or a walk in the stroller can sometimes do the trick as well.
  • Gently rocking baby holding him belly down across your forearm, or lying her belly down across your knees while gently swaying, swaddling, pacifiers, belly massage, or warm baths have also been found to be soothing for some babies.

You may need to try several of options to find what works for your baby, and also find things that work for you.

Taking care of you is most necessary. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and you don’t know when the actual end will be, so you need to get yourself some relief. Even if it’s just going to the grocery store alone, or taking a 15-minute walk at the end of the day, you deserve and need a break. If you are in the midst of one of those awful moments and no other adult is available, it’s okay to put baby down in a safe place such as the crib and just walk away into another room for a few minutes to calm down, do some breathing exercises and re-group. You are not alone and this will get better. Hang in there.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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