Every newborn and infant cries at some point. Though we would all agree it is normal for all little ones, it pulls on most of our heartstrings. I hear infants cry all day, every day—be it at home, in my practice, or in the emergency room. I never get used to it. Hearing my own kids cry, this is a whole other story for another time.
The most common concern I hear from parents at the 1 or 2 month visit is about their baby’s crying and fussiness. Hearing your baby cry is utterly exhausting and painful for new parents. One of the biggest challenges we have as new parents is to learn what the baby’s cry means so we can best soothe.
Technically, colic occurs when your baby cries more than three hours a day, more than three days a week, for more than three weeks. The definition is pretty arbitrary. We don’t usually know why these babies cry so much. This fussiness peaks around 4-8 weeks and fades with time. With no treatment your baby will stop crying as much. But these weeks can pass so slowly! The crying is unpredictable, but does usually occur within the same few hours each day, usually in the evening. Babies often seem to be in pain, though we usually can’t figure out the source.
Parents often look to me to provide suggestions of how to soothe their fussy baby. I wish there was a one-size-fits-all solution for all fussy babies. If this were the case, someone out there would have a Nobel Peace Prize. In fact, a systematic review published in the prestigious journal, Pediatrics, demonstrated that no individual complementary medicine treatment was consistently helpful at treating symptoms of colic. The reality is, there is nothing that works for everyone, but some tricks work for some children and other tricks work for others.
Here are my suggestions for how to calm a crying baby that worked for my kids. Remember, this is trial and error and not all tricks will help all babies. I liken 4-8 weeks of age to the fourth trimester where babies want to reproduce what it was like in the womb. This means being held/cradled/saddled tightly, with gentle movement and sound, like it was in mom’s tummy.
1. Ensure your baby is well fed—hunger is a common cause of crying.
2. Try to burp your baby—gas pains can be painful and irritate your baby.
3. Ensure your baby has a clean diaper.
4. Make sure your baby is dressed appropriately—is she too hot or too cold?
These suggestions you have likely considered. They are just a reminder.
Though there is some recent debate about the safety of white noise, thus far I do not see any compelling evidence that white noise (such as the sound of running water or ocean waves) at a low sound level and for only a few minutes or hours a day is harmful. See more on sound machines.
When you were pregnant, your baby was shaking all the time. When you were walking, exercising, and even just lying around, as the blood flow was pumping from your heart it was shaking the baby. Many babies like this type of movement outside the womb, too. Baby wearing or using a vibrating chair or swing (my kids’ favourite) can help the baby relax.
Another hotly debated topic. I personally like swaddling babies to prevent the startle reflex (Moro response), which often wakes them up from sleep. The caveat is that babies should only be sleeping on their backs and there should be no material (blanket, fabric, or pillows) near the baby’s face. I swaddle from the shoulders down to minimize suffocation.
Many babies like to suck and do so to sooth themselves. For babies that are gaining weight well and have no breast feeding difficulty (if mom is breastfeeding), using a pacifier can help settle your baby. Read more on pacifier use.
Some parents swear by Ovol (Simethicone) or Gripe Water. There is no consistent evidence that shows these are effective, but they don’t seem to cause ill effect either. Try each one out and hope for some colic relief.
Respite is the most important thing. Take some moments or hours to yourself, if you are lucky enough to have a friend or family member who can watch your baby. Sleep deprivation and missing socializing and exercising can lead you to feel even more drained and out of control. Take some "me" time if you can.
If you are concerned that something more significant is wrong with your baby, please see your doctor. Bladder infections, reflux (heart burn), food intolerance, and other medical problems can cause significant crying, and it’s best to ensure no medical reason for crying if your strategies aren’t working.
Colic is difficult to treat and needs a trial-and-error approach. The good news—it invariably resolves with time, you just need some patience. Please speak to your doc with any concerns or questions you have around your baby’s crying to ensure you aren’t missing a medical cause. Read more on how much sleep your baby needs.
How To Interpret Your Baby's Cries: Learn how to understand your baby's language during your first months together.
Are you a sleep deprived mom of a newborn? Here are 6 Ways To Get Your Newborn To Sleep At Night.