When Lullabies Don’t Work: How to Soothe a Newborn with Colic

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Most new parents anticipate that their little ones will cry for fairly obvious reasons, such as hunger or the discomfort of a dirty diaper. For the most part, that’s true. With swift assistance, many babies can be soothed once their basic needs are met.

But whether you are a first-time parent or a seventh-time parent, it is possible to have an otherwise healthy newborn who cries suddenly, loudly and consistently for no obvious reason — and is very difficult to soothe.

This is a common condition known as colic, which affects up to 25 percent of newborns in their first few months of life, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

In the vast majority of cases, colic goes away on its own.

How Do You Know if Your Baby Has Colic?

All babies cry occasionally, but the cries of the colicky baby are distinct in that they:

  • Last more than three hours a day
  • Happen more than three days a week
  • Occur for more than three weeks

If your baby is crying excessively, have your child’s health care provider check your baby for medical conditions, such as acid reflux, food allergies, hernias or intestinal obstruction. These conditions might be the source of your baby’s discomfort.

If no underlying medical condition is found, your baby may have colic. Caring for an unhappy baby can be difficult for caregivers. At this time, experts aren’t sure what causes colic, but they do know:

  • Colic isn’t a sign that your baby is rejecting or manipulating you
  • Colic isn’t a sign that the baby’s caregivers are doing anything wrong

How Do You Treat and Cure Colic?

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In the vast majority of cases, colic goes away on its own. Half the time, colic goes away by age 3 months, and in 90 percent of cases, it goes away by age 9 months.

While there isn’t one simple way to cure colic, there are many strategies to calm a colicky child. As you spend time caring for your baby, you’ll learn to recognize and react to his cues. For example:

  • If your baby seems to want to be close to you, you can swaddle him in a thin blanket and softly rub him on the back or stomach. 
  • If your baby wants to be active, you can place him in an infant swing, rock him in your arms or take him for a walk. 
  • If your baby seems overwhelmed, he may be soothed by white noise, such as a fan, a white noise machine, or even the sound of a vacuum! 
  • Your upset baby may be hungry, so offering him breast milk or formula may work. If baby isn’t hungry but still wants to suck, try offering him a pacifier or your finger to suck on.
  • Babies with colic will benefit from being held, touched and cuddled frequently. Remember, you can’t spoil a child with too much loving touch!

Soothe Your Infant, But Take Care of Yourself, Too

If you are caring for an infant who is crying very consistently, it’s essential that you take steps to manage the stress in your life. It isn’t being selfish to ask your partner or a family friend to watch your baby for a few hours if you are feeling overwhelmed — it’s smart.

If you ever need a moment to calm down while caring for your baby, place him in a safe place (such as his crib) and take a few moments to catch your breath. Remember, never shake your baby. It will not stop the crying, but it can cause serious brain damage or death.

When Should You See a Doctor?

If you have any concerns about your baby’s crying, call your child’s health care provider for suggestions, support and resources to cope during this challenging time.

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