What is colic, does it even exist and either way…what can I do about my baby’s crying?
By Amanda Spakowski
Owner/Founder The Nesting Place: Prenatal classes and doula care
The word “colic” has been around for quite some time and is often used to diagnose babies who excessively cry, appear to be in pain and who haven’t been soothed by any of their parents’ attempts at reassurance. But in recent years, the existence of colic has been questioned by scientists and doctors, leaving parents with conflicting information about their child’s well-being and the treatment (if any) in which to ease the discomfort they see their baby in.
In this short review, we’ll go over how colic has been diagnosed, what new research tells us about this condition and soothing methods that have been shown to make a difference to your crying baby.
What is colic?
Colic has been described as a condition where a baby excessively cries and appears to be in pain. The baby’s face may be bright red while she cries, she might run out of breath during a cry, hold her fists really tight and bring her legs right up to her chest or straight out in front of her.
Bouts of colic are described as coming on suddenly, without noticeable cause and may last up to 3-4 hours. Parents report their babies being resistant to the soothing techniques that have previously worked for them. This behaviour in babies is noticed as early as 2 weeks after birth and begins to subside or goes away completely by 8 weeks.
We don’t really know what causes this behaviour in babies but it is a commonly held belief that colic is related to painful sensations associated with passing gas. Parents will often take up natural and medical techniques of helping their baby with gas in an effort to relieve the pain they believe their babies are in. If their baby is, in fact having gas issues they will notice a difference in their baby’s behaviour and likely hear their baby pass gas during or after their efforts to relieve the gas pain.
But, gas issues are not the cause of colic. Recent studies show that babies will actually have more gas bubbles in their tummy after they cry than before they’ve started crying. So there will be times when a baby is crying, parents try everything including their tried and true gas relieving techniques and their baby STILL cries!
The Period of Purple Crying
In 2008, the National Centre on Shaken Baby Syndrome and a few key people from UBC teamed up and studied the crying in babies that seemed to come up for no apparent reason and has, up until this point, been referred to as colic. What they found was the all babies (whether they were diagnosed with colic or not), including those from different countries (read as: independent of parenting and soothing techniques) have either a predictable period of time during the day or short frequent periods of time throughout the day where they cry for no apparent reason.
This amount of time increased over the first 6-8 weeks and then started to go away. Different babies exhibited crying patterns to higher or lesser degrees but ALL babies exhibited this pattern of behaviour. Since then, numerous studies performed by scientists world-wide have confirmed these results and indicate that this crying is actually a normal part of your child’s development.
***Time for the disclaimer! This does NOT mean that you don’t have to soothe your child or try to find out if there is something that is causing your child’s crying. It means that after you’ve tried everything you can think of (including taking your child to the doctor if you’re concerned that they’re sick), if your baby is still crying, it’s likely that the crying is part of your baby’s normal physiological development.
They call it The Period of Purple Crying to help people remember the characteristics of this normal crying. Purple is the acronym…..
Peak of crying (crying can increase and peak at 6-8 weeks before it starts to go away)
Unexpected (can come and go with no rhyme or reason)
Pain-like expression on baby’s face
Long lasting (can last as long as 5hrs per day or more)
Evening (often occurs in the late afternoon or evening)
Sounds awesome doesn’t it. So whereas we used to think that babies who cried like this suffered from colic, we’re now finding that there is, in fact nothing wrong with your child; your child is not in pain, you are not a terrible parent who can’t figure out how to help your child, but rather it’s going through a normal phase of it’s life.
Use the 5 S’s to Soothe your Child
Don’t worry. This isn’t a “your baby’s incessant crying is normal, just deal with it “ kind of article. There are soothing techniques that can make a difference for you. You may not always be able to stop your baby from crying, but with these soothing styles you’ll be able to shorten that period of time or minimize the intensity of those bouts of crying.
First, it’s important to learn that your child has a ‘calming reflex’ and just by holding him a certain way, he can go from crying to calm in seconds. This way of soothing is based on the idea that what your child will be soothed by is reminiscent of the stimulus he has received in the womb. It’s called the 5 S’ and is a part of The Happiest Baby on the Block parenting series.
The 5 S’ are:
Swaddling (your baby is used to being held closely in the womb)
Shushing (the noise of the birth mother’s digestive system and heart rate is about as loud as a vacuum cleaner! Often babies are not over stimulated, they’re under stimulated!)
Swinging (think of how much your baby was bounced around in the Belly Bootcamp class you did in pregnancy. Yeah. They like to be rocked!)
There is no spoiling your baby with these soothing methods. Your child is used to having this soothing as their disposal for 24 hrs a day 7 days a week until it is born. They’re actually already adjusted to less of this soothing in their life outside of your body. So even if you were to soothe your baby for every sqeak, it’s still less than what it’s used to having.
Dr. Harvey Karp is featured on the Happiest Baby website and videos and does an amazing job of describing this technique to parents. Check out his online videos and give it a try with your baby.
Amanda Spakowski is the Owner and Founder of The Nesting Place: Prenatal Classes & Doula Care. Her practice of four doulas offer Birthing From Within prenatal classes, birth and postpartum doula care and infant massage to parents in the GTA and neighbouring communities. Her inspiration for The Nesting Place came from her volunteer experience with teen mothers, where she learned just how important non-judgmental support can be in making a birth experience feel safe and meaningful to you.