When you bring your newborn home, you hope they are not the type to cry every other time. However, crying is their only way of passing information at this tender age.
Your baby will cry to inform you when he’s hungry, tired, due for a diaper change, in pain, or in need of company. As parents, we sometimes get frustrated at not being able to determine the reason for the crying but meet these needs by default.
How to identify normal and abnormal cry periods
As a new mom, I would constantly ask myself and other parents how long they should let the baby cry. The answer became easier once I learned how to identify both normal and abnormal crying.
Abnormal cry times come due to a legitimate need, hence require immediate attention, including finding the root cause. They include:
- Crying during feeds. These may point to trapped gas, poor diet, or a milk quality problem.
- Crying immediately after feeding.
- Crying when the baby wakes up earlier than usual from a nap.
Some crying is normal and expected. Normal crying periods include:
- Crying just before feeding.
- Crying when the baby goes down for a nap. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many babies cannot fall asleep without crying, and if left to cry for a while, they go to sleep faster.
- Crying during the late afternoon or early evening. A fussy personal time during this period is not uncommon.
Colic is frequent, prolonged, and intense crying in an otherwise healthy baby, without an obvious reason or apparent solution, but resolves with time. This period of fussiness is a combination of baffling behaviors, which can go on for hours, especially at night.
The American Academy of Family Physicians states that colic affects about 10% to 40% of infants. Colic bouts start at 2-3 weeks old, peak at 6 weeks, and then taper off by the tenth week.
Colic crying is louder, intense, and high pitched in comparison to normal crying. A colicky baby is also inconsolable and tends to cry for a more extended period. This can be highly frustrating to parents.
Infant colic diagnosis constitutes the rules of three. A baby with colic cries for:
- At least 3 hours a day
- At least 3 days a week
- At least 3 weeks in a row
Symptoms and signs of colic
The signs and symptoms to know if your baby is colicky, in addition to the rules of three, include:
- Crying at the same time every day, especially in the late afternoon or early evening.
- It seems to happen for no reason, such as a dirty diaper, hunger or tiredness.
- Baby pulls up his legs, clenches his fists, arches his back, and passes gas while crying.
- Baby feels better after passing gas or having a bowel movement.
- Cries are louder and higher-pitched than usual. Your baby may sound like she’s in pain.
- Baby can reject breastfeeding even after frantically searching for and screaming for a nipple.
There’s little scientific evidence to inform the use of conventional medication in the market as a form of relief. No reliable studies have shown the effectiveness of gripe water in reducing colic symptoms. While anti-gas drops, which help reduce the gas, are worth trying, it’s better to ask your pediatrician first.
Recent studies have show probiotics (good bacteria) help reduce colic symptoms and crying in exclusively breastfed babies. A probiotic named Lactobacillus reuteri, already sold in the market as a relief for infant colic, is a promising avenue of treatment for breastfed children. It is worth noting that there are still further studies to be done for formula-fed babies.
In a new trial, probiotic drops containing Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis BB-12 strain “reduced duration of daily crying by more than 50% in 80% of the 40 infants who received it once daily for 28 days.” Other benefits included longer sleep duration, stool frequency, and consistency.
Home remedies for colicky babies
Colic has no specific treatment, but there are several tips to help reduce the issues in a colicky baby.
- Swaddle: Swaddling a baby with colic is a simple yet effective natural remedy. A tight and warm wrap up covering their limbs is a good reminder of being back in the womb and can help ease colic. Swaddled babies startle less and tend to sleep better. Put him on his back to sleep to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
- Keep breastfeeding: One of the biggest parenting misconceptions is that breastfeeding causes colic. Babies who take infant formula can experience it as well. Offer to breastfeed even if you think they are not hungry. The comfort soothes the baby and makes them feel secure.
- Burp your baby: Bottle-fed babies take in more air during feeds than breastfed babies. Such is the case for a child crying excessively. Hence the need to burp them after feedings and get that uncomfortable air out of their belly. Make this a routine.
- Hold upright after feeding: A baby having acid reflux may experience a burning sensation when their milk or formula tries to come back up. It would be best if you held them upright after each feeding session to keep the contents of his stomach down and reduce acid reflux symptoms. Place your baby in the colic hold with his belly over your forearm. The pressure of an arm on his tummy can help released uncomfortable gas and make him feel better.
- Review the diet: The foods you eat make their way to your baby through your breast milk. A change in diet is necessary to see if the colic improves. You can temporarily eliminate any food from your diet that can cause tummy troubles for the infant leading to colic-like symptoms. These include dairy products, gas-causing veggies and legumes, and acidic fruits. For formula-fed babies, any known allergy to a milk ingredient or intolerance to milk protein should prompt switching to formulas that rely on other proteins and are designed for sensitive tummies. Give it a week before serious change happens.
- Lay them on their tummy: Lay your baby on his belly across your laps or stomach. While at it, rub your baby’s back. It is both soothing and can help gas pass through. It also strengthens the baby’s neck and shoulder muscles. Tummy time should always be under supervision, and only when the baby is awake.
- Generate white noise: Some babies find consistent low sounds to be comforting. White noise makes the environment calm and soothing for the baby. It also helps him sleep.
- Massage gently: Firmly stroke the baby’s chest, back, tummy, and limbs. In this case, skin-to-skin contact will help soothe colic; the action is relaxing and can help the baby sleep. Add bicycle kicks for maximum effect.
- Carry them: A baby with colic often responds well to being held. Hold them for longer periods early in the day to help reduce colic in the evening. It is comforting for them to be close to you. You can use a baby carrier for this, as it extends the womb experience.
- Offer a pacifier: A pacifier is calming for infants and enough to soothe a baby with colic. The instinct to suckle immediately when they see a pacifier may cause them to focus and be less upset.
Not all crying is colic. Some crying could be a sign of infections, so check in with your pediatrician if your baby cries for an extended period to rule that out. Before giving any medication or making changes to the diet, talk to your pediatrician about it.
This phase shall pass. You just require a little knowledge and a lot of patience to go through this. Give each remedy a fair shot before jumping on to the next. Colic does not seem to have long term complications for the baby. The baby tends to eat, gain weight, and grow normally.
Tell us, which tips have almost always worked for your colicky baby? Share them in the comments below.