As if new parents weren’t stressed out enough, the persistent cry of a colicky infant adds even more tension to a household with a brand-new baby around. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that there are plenty of not-so-helpful myths about colic and what to do about it. If you have a colicky baby, you want helpful, meaningful advice – and you want it now.
First, you should know if your baby truly has colic and what it means. Of course, all new babies cry so there is a certain amount of crying to be expected. Crying is a baby’s primary means of communication to express hunger, pain, boredom, or tiredness. But colic is a different kind of cry. Colic is often defined by the “rule of threes” – three hours of crying for three or more days per week, lasting for more than three weeks, in an otherwise healthy baby. A colicky cry happens on an almost predictable schedule (often in the early evening) and it sounds intense and even inconsolable. Often babies tense up, usually pulling up their legs, during a colicky crying episode.
If your baby is suffering from colic, you’ll probably listen to just about any kind of advice that might help her. But you should be forewarned – you’ll probably hear a number of unhelpful myths about colic, including:
“Babies cry to manipulate their parents.” FALSE. Babies don’t have that advanced capability. All they know is their own bodies and their own instincts telling them that something is not right.
“Holding your baby will spoil him.” FALSE. It is impossible to spoil a baby. In fact, if you respond to your baby’s needs – or show him that you care and want to help – it helps your baby become more confident and possibly less demanding later on.
“Rice cereal will help.” FALSE. Rice cereal has not been shown to help colic in any way, and in fact it could be harmful to a baby to give him solid food too early. Babies should consume only baby formula or breastmilk until six months, unless your doctor directs otherwise.
“Give her something to make her drowsy.” FALSE. While in the past parents might have used antihistamines or other medications to relieve colic, those medications are not safe for the baby and have not been found to be helpful in relieving the condition.
“Firstborn babies/boys/girls/breastfed babies/formula-fed babies (or any other category) are more likely to suffer from colic.” FALSE. Probably one of the reasons colic is such a maddening condition is because it affects so many different children across the board. There is no one category of children that gets more colic than others.
“Why haven’t you tried [name the cure]? It always cures colic.” FALSE. If there were one sure-fire cure for colic, parents would all be rushing to do it. No one treatment or tactic has been found to “cure” colic, if in fact it can be cured by anything but time.
What you can do is make a few simple changes to see what might give your baby (and you) some relief. Try carrying her around in a sling, give her lots of motion, wrap her tightly, offer her a pacifier, give her a gentle tummy or back massage, take her for a drive in the car, play some loud music, take her for a walk, give her a bath, change her diaper, burp her, or put on a white noise machine. If you are breastfeeding, try making some simple changes in your diet (fewer gassy foods, eliminate spicy foods or dairy). If you are formula-feeding, try experimenting with different nipples, feeding times, or formulas.
Above all, make sure you give yourself a break if you need one. If you have no one else to help you, it’s OK to put the baby in his crib for five or ten minutes while you take a breather. And remember, colic almost always disappears by three months. Before you know it, his cries will turn into babbling…and then words…and then sentences…and soon you’ll be having conversations with the same little who gave you so much trouble in the first few weeks.