are still unsure of colic’s exact cause. Some
experts believe that colic is related to the immaturity
of a baby’s digestive system. Others theorize
that a baby’s immature nervous system and inability
to handle the constant sensory stimulation that surrounds
her cause a breakdown by the end of the day, when
colic most often occurs.
Dr. Harvey Karp, in his book The Happiest Baby on the Block (Bantam Books, 2002) introduced a new theory. He believes that babies are born three months too early, and that some babies find their new world too difficult to handle. They yearn for the comforting conditions that occurred in the womb.
the cause, and it may be a combination of all the
theories; colic is among the most exasperating conditions
that parents of new babies face. Colic occurs only
to newborn babies, up to about four to five months
of age. Symptoms include:
A regular period of nonstop, inconsolable crying,
typically late in the day
Crying bouts that last one to three hours or
A healthy and happy disposition at all other
times of the day
colic be prevented?
that we aren’t sure what causes colic, we don’t
know if it can be prevented. Even if you do everything
“right” and take all the steps to discourage
colic, it still may happen. If you think your baby
has colic, talk with your pediatrician and take your
baby in for a checkup to rule out any medical cause
for your baby’s crying. If your baby is given
a clean bill of health, then you’ll know colic
is the culprit in the daily crying bouts.
colic occurs in newborns, parents often feel that
they are doing something wrong to create the situation.
Their vulnerability and lack of experience puts them
in the position of questioning their own ability to
take care of their baby. Hearing your baby cry with
colic, and not knowing why it’s happening or
what to do about it is painful for you; I know this
because one of my four children suffered with colic.
Although many years have passed since then (Angela
is now 15), I remember it vividly. Hearing my baby
cry night after night and not knowing how to help
her was gut wrenching, heartbreaking, and frustrating.
The most important piece of research I discovered
was this: It’s not your fault. Any baby can
that may help your baby
that nothing you do will eliminate colic completely
until your baby’s system is mature and able
to settle on its own. That said, experienced parents
and professionals can offer ways to help your baby
though this time ask around! I did, and from what
I uncovered, I compiled the following suggestions
for helping your baby feel better. Look for patterns
to your baby’s crying; these can provide clues
as to which suggestions are most likely to help. Stick
with an idea for a few days to see if it helps. Watch
for any signs of improvement (not necessarily complete
quiet). If the particular course of action doesn’t
seem to change anything, don’t get discouraged
just try something else:
If breastfeeding, feed on demand (cue feeding),
for nutrition as well as comfort, as often as
your baby needs a calming influence.
If breastfeeding, try avoiding foods that may
cause gas in your baby. Eliminate one possible
cause for a few days and see if it makes a difference.
The most common baby tummy offenders are dairy
products, caffeine, cabbage, broccoli and other
gassy vegetables. But don’t assume the culprit,
if there is one, will be obvious: I know one mother
whose baby reacted loudly and consistently after
any meal that included eggplant, asparagus or
If bottlefeeding, offer more frequent but smaller
meals; experiment with different formulas with
your doctor’s approval.
If bottlefeeding, try different types of bottles
and nipples that prevent air from entering your
baby as he drinks, such as those with curved bottles
or collapsible liners.
Hold your baby in a more upright position for
feeding and directly afterwards.
Experiment with how often and when you burp
Offer meals in a quiet setting.
If baby likes a pacifier, offer him one.
Invest in a baby sling or carrier and use it
during colicky periods.
If the weather’s too unpleasant for an
outside stroll, bring your stroller in the house
and walk your baby around.
Give your baby a warm bath.
Place a warm towel or wrapped water bottle on
baby’s tummy (taking caution that the temperature
is warm but not hot).
Hold your baby with her legs curled up toward
Massage your baby’s tummy, or give him
a full massage.
Swaddle your baby in a warm blanket.
Lay your baby tummy down across your lap and
massage or pat her back.
Hold your baby in a rocking chair, or put him
in a swing.
Walk with Baby in a quiet, dark room while you
hum or sing.
Try keeping your baby away from highly stimulating
situations during the day when possible to prevent
sensory overload, and understand that a particularly
busy day may mean a fussier evening.
Lie on your back and lay your baby on top of
your tummy down while massaging his back. (Transfer
your baby to his bed if he falls asleep.)
Take Baby for a ride in the car.
Play soothing music or turn on white noise such
as a vacuum cleaner or running water, or play
a CD of nature sounds.
As a last resort, ask your doctor about medications
available for colic and gas.
difficult as colic is for a baby, it is just as challenging
for the parents. This can be especially hard for a
mother who has other children to care for, who has
returned to work, or who is suffering from the baby
blues or postpartum depression. Even if everything
else in life is perfect, colic is taxing. Here are
a few things you can do to take some of the stress
out of these colicky times:
Know that your baby will cry during his colicky
time, and while you can do things to make your
baby more comfortable, nothing you can do will
totally stop the crying. This is not a result
of anything you’ve done or not done.
Plan outings for the times of day when baby
is usually happy, or if outings keep your baby
happy, plan them for the colicky times.
Take advantage of another person’s offer
to take a turn with the baby, even if it’s
just so that you can take a quiet bath or shower.
Keep reminding yourself that this is only temporary;
it will pass.
Avoid keeping a long to-do list right now; only
do what’s most important.
Talk to other parents of colicky babies so you
can share ideas and comfort each other.
If the crying is getting to you and making you
tense or angry, put your baby in his crib, or
give him to someone else to hold for a while so
that you don’t accidentally shake or harm
your baby. (Shaking a baby can cause permanent
brain damage, so if you feel angry, and colic
can do that to you, put your baby down.)
Know that babies do not suffer long-term harm
from having colic.
should I call the doctor?
Anytime you are concerned about your baby, call
your doctor. That goes for anything concerning
your precious little one. In the case of colic,
be sure to make that call if you notice any of
Your baby’s crying is accompanied by vomiting.
Your baby is not gaining weight.
The colicky behavior lasts longer than four
Your baby seems to be in pain.
Your baby has a fever.
Your baby doesn’t want to be held or handled.
The crying spree isn’t limited to one
bout in the evening.
Your baby does not have regular bowel movements
or wet diapers.
You notice other problems that don’t appear
on the previous list of symptoms.
Your baby’s crying is making you angry
This article is an excerpt from Gentle Baby Care by Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)