All babies cry some of the time. This is a normal part of development. When babies cry a lot, it’s sometimes because of colic. Here are some things to do if you think your baby has colic.
Two important things to do about your baby’s crying
The first thing is to have your baby checked by a nurse or doctor to make sure there’s nothing physically wrong. This will reassure you and make it easier for you to try out different strategies for settling your baby.
The second thing is looking after yourself by getting enough rest, sleep and time to yourself. For mothers, it’s easy to feel that you have to be ‘superwoman’ – that somehow you can manage every aspect of your baby’s care, keep a spotless home, and do shopping, cooking and all the things you did before your baby came along. But this is just impossible.
It’s vitally important you organise things so you have time for yourself, as well as enough rest. Everybody – you, your family and especially your baby – will suffer if you’re feeling stressed from trying to do too much.
You can’t spoil your baby
by picking him up too often, or by cuddling or talking to him. Similarly, trying to ‘train’ babies to a four-hourly schedule doesn’t gel with our understanding of infant development. Feed your baby whenever you think he’s hungry, and trust your instincts instead of watching the clock. It’s OK to pick your baby up as much as you want to when he’s crying.
Ten ideas to reduce your baby’s crying and fussing
Crying and fussing is a normal part of development for most babies. It will pass in time. But here are some ideas that might help cut down on how often, how long and how hard your baby cries and fusses.
These approaches won’t magically stop your baby crying, but they might make things easier and more bearable until your baby gets older and can tell you what she needs.
Different strategies will help different babies. Also, something that worked well one day might not work the next day – you might have to try something different. Every day’s different.
You can try these approaches in any order. You can also experiment to see which ones are most likely to help your particular situation. If one of these strategies doesn’t work after a while, you can try another.
Check if your baby’s comfortable. See whether his nappy needs changing, or whether he’s too hot or cold.
Offer a feed if you sense your baby might be hungry, or if the last feed was more than two hours ago.
- Sometimes your baby isn’t hungry but wants to suck. You could offer a dummy or the breast. You could also encourage her to soothe herself by helping her find her own fingers or thumb to suck.
- Speak softly to your baby, sing to him or play soft music. He might just want to know you’re nearby, or your voice might soothe him.
- Gently rock or carry your baby in a baby carrier or sling – sometimes movement and closeness to a parent can soothe babies. Some babies quieten down when you take them for a walk in the pram. But it’s not recommended to leave your baby sleeping in a pram unsupervised.
- Some babies are bored and need the stimulation of being held, rocked or spoken to. But others seem to be easily overstimulated and need peace and quiet. Turn down the lights, and try to calm things down. Some babies like low-level background noise. Try to work out what your baby needs when she cries and is hard to comfort.
Try baby massage. This will often calm your baby and help you relax too. It can also strengthen the bond between you and your baby. Your child and family health nurse can teach you how to do baby massage or you can read about it in books. You could also watch our baby massage video or check out our illustrated guide to baby massage.
- A warm bath might settle your baby and promote sleep.
- Try to establish a pattern to feeding and settling, so your baby knows what to expect and can develop some self-regulating abilities.
Ask your child and family health nurse for advice. The nurse will be able to reassure you about your baby’s health, as well as checking your feeding techniques and providing valuable tips and advice on how best to manage your particular situation.
Things that probably won’t work
Drugs have a very limited place in the modern management of colic. There’s no evidence that babies suffer from wind or intestinal spasm, so colic mixtures have no logical or scientific basis. They aren’t recommended as a substitute for – or as an addition – to the strategies listed above. The things that are likely to work and that cause no harm to your baby are physical rather than pharmacological.
Changing what mum is eating (if breastfeeding) or changing the formula (if bottle-feeding) aren’t generally helpful. There’s very little evidence that babies are allergic to a particular type of milk, or to substances that mum eats and passes to baby in the breastmilk.
True milk allergy is uncommon, and changes of formula can be demoralising for parents – and, in most cases, quite unhelpful to the baby. Occasionally, mums will notice a change in their baby’s behaviour after they’ve eaten something in particular. If this occurs, this substance is best avoided. But changes in the diet of mum or baby are rarely helpful as a treatment for crying and fussing.
When to see your doctor
Many parents will want to see the doctor early on when their baby first begins to get restless and grizzly. Your doctor will perform a careful physical examination to rule out any medical causes. The doctor might also be able to offer you practical advice. Make sure you see your doctor if:
- the strategies above don’t improve the symptoms
- your baby develops any other problems
- you’re afraid you might hurt your baby
- you’re worried for any other reason.
Investigations such as blood tests or X-rays rarely help in babies with colic. The only time your baby would need tests is if the doctor thinks there might be an illness or infection that’s making your baby cry.
Colic seems to be a common phase that most babies go through. This means it’s difficult to prevent.
There’s some research that shows that babies who are carried a lot (using a papoose or sling), even when they’re not crying, have a tendency to cry and fuss less.