Colic Babies - Signs and How to Calm a Colicky Baby Naturally
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Originally written in 2013 and updated in Sept 2020
One of my kids had colic. And goodness did I jump through hoops and did everything I could think of to help her through it!
During colic times, I would put on loud white noise, wear her and rock her swiftly, you name it. Nothing seemed to help. Thankfully, after what felt like eternity (a few weeks) the colic was gone.
I had three more kids after her. During that time, I added a long list of training and certifications,including Postpartum Doula, Childbirth Education, Lactation Educator, and a Holistic Wellness educator.
I know how frustrating it is when your baby is experiencing colic. And if you're experiencing colic with your baby, there's help for you.
Keep reading, because I am going to share a detailed holistic approach that is also evidence-based and proven in calming a colicky baby.
What is colic?
Colic is uncontrollable crying that happens for three or more hours a day. Colic usually begins later in the first month of life.
Some of the signs that your baby may have colic are:
- Crying in what seems like pain or with the expression of pain.
- Crying that doesn’t see to have a reason -- you’ve tried feeding, diaper change, babywearing, etc. - but your baby is still crying.
- Even when your baby is not crying, there’s a lot of fussiness.
- You can almost predict when the crying will begin.
- Your baby cries so hard that his face turns red from all the crying.
- The baby’s body is super tense. Almost as if she’s clenching her entire body.
What causes colic in babies?
Colic is a mystery to the medical community. At best, a pediatrician will guess what could be causing it, but no research explains why a baby gets colic. As you can imagine, it can be frustrating when even your own baby’s doctor doesn’t know why the baby is crying.
Don’t worry, though. I will be giving you tips on what to do if your baby gets colic, so keep reading; there’s helpful insight.
You'll also learn how to prevent colic in babies.
RELATED ARTICLE: 6 Common Questions New Parents Ask
Some of the suspected reasons for baby colic are:
- A baby’s gut is not yet fully developed, so there’s some research that digestive problems could cause colic.
- There are not enough healthy bacteria in the baby’s gut.
- The baby may have allergies or intolerance to the food it’s receiving via breastmilk or formula.
- There is trapped gas that needs to come out.
- Baby is overfed or underfed.
- A baby can be developing an early onset of migraines.
- There’s family stress or anxiety.
- There’s a history (or current) of depression in either parent.
When a baby has colic, you may not initially know why your baby seems so unhappy. But, you can do some investigating to eliminate potential reasons and get to the cause of colic.
What can you do when your baby has colic?
Listen, I know how hard it is to have a baby that seems so unhappy, and you can’t calm her down. It broke my heart to have my daughter cry like that. I was willing to try anything and everything. And I did!
But as the parent, you also need to take steps to stay calm during times that your baby is colicky.
Here are my go-to ways to bring a mindful approach to self-care while caring for a colicky baby.
Sometimes your tolerance for continuous crying can start to feel like you’re falling apart. You’re not a bad mother because your baby’s crying is wearing on you or making you lose your patience.
It’s normal to get frustrated when a baby has colic. You are trying so hard to calm your baby, and nothing seems to work. It could go on for hours.
You’ll want to take steps to calm yourself down before you can calm your baby.
Ground yourself to stay calm during colic crying spells.
Grounding means connecting the human body to the Earth’s electrons. The science behind this idea shows that it improves health, and some research also indicates that it can improve mood. You don’t have to be barefoot on the earth to get the benefits (though that does help).
Here’s how you can ground yourself at home.
- Step outside, plant your feet on the ground, stand tall.
- Now, imagine your feet sending roots down into the ground. (And the roots are also coming up into your body, connecting you firmly to the Earth.)
- Stand in this in this way, with this imagery, until you feel that you are strong and solid, connected to the Earth.
Don’t worry if at first, this feels strange or if it takes you a while to feel this connection. Keep doing this grounding practice every day, because the more you do it, the better you feel a strong sense of harmony and strength from grounding yourself.
You can also ground yourself while inside. Open a nearby window and do the same imagery was you take deep breaths with your eyes closed.
2. Breathe Lavender Essential Oil
To inhale Lavender essential oil, simply place 3-5 drops of the essential oil on a napkin or tissue and hold it to your nose as you take deep breaths. All it takes is 10-15 deep breaths to receive the benefits of Lavender essential oil. But, repeat as often as you need to reduce the level of stress or anxiety you are experiencing.
RELATED ARTICLE: Essential Oils for Happiness
Alternate between the chest and belly breathing
Alternating between chest and belly breathing is one of my favorite ways to reduce anxiety when I feel overwhelmed. You can do this any time you need to and wherever you are.
- Place a hand on your chest and one on your stomach.
- Take a deep breath into your chest. You should feel your chest rise when you do this.
- You’ll then breathe into your belly (you should feel your belly expand with the breath.
- Continue alternating until you feel calmer and more relaxed.
While calming a colicky baby, it’s also ok to place baby down in a safe space and walk away to calm yourself down.
7 Ways to Calm a Colicky Baby
1. Hold baby more during the day.
Babies are natural contact seekers. Your touch helps to maximize your baby’s brain development. Touch is the first way that baby’s experience love and security.
The more you touch and hold your baby during the day, the calmer and more secure your baby feels. This isn’t to say that you won’t use your baby gear, like a bouncer, but you should be mindful of giving your baby plenty of touch during the day consciously.
My second, third, and fourth babies did not experience colic, and they rarely cried. The main difference between them was simply this — I carried them in a baby carrier most of the day— Baby carrier like this one.
With my first, I used baby carriers (read more about baby carriers here). Still, she was not nearly as carried as my second and my third, who spent the majority of their day on me worn in a comfortable baby carrier (my preference was woven wraps).
My third was carried so much during the day and evening that it took me by surprise to realize that he could crawl when one day I put him down (he was five mos old) and he started crawling!
I had a much easier time nursing than my first, so they also nursed often throughout the day while worn. And because of babywearing (carrying a baby in a baby carrier), they experienced their day through my rhythmic movements and sounds of daily life as I went about my day with a baby.
My favorite baby carrier of choice for a new baby and around 4-5 mos is a good quality stretchy wrap like the Boba Baby Wrap. After this point, I recommend a woven wrap or a soft structured carrier (Ergo, Lillebaby, or Beco).
RELATED ARTICLE: Parents Guide to Baby Carriers
2. Do an elimination diet.
There might be something in your baby’s gut that isn’t agreeing to the food you’re eating. Doing an elimination can help you find that food item and to stop your baby’s colic.
In my experience as a postpartum doula, I find that when a baby’s body tenses a lot and baby seems uncomfortable, that usually it’s connected to something that the mom is eating.
Ask yourself what food you think it is. Write down (without questioning yourself) the first foods that come to mine. The chances are that you are on point about the potential problem foods. And believe me, these can be healthy foods too! I once did postpartum doula work for a mom that couldn’t eat most vegetables since they irritated her baby’s gut.
Then to the foods you suspect, also add these common food allergens and intolerance.
A list of common food allergens and intolerance include:
- Tree nuts
Eliminate these foods for a minimum of four weeks before introducing any back to your diet.
A note about “cheating” during the elimination diet: you’ll want to eat the foods you’re supposed to be eliminating. But, if you do, you need to begin the four-week countdown all over them again. So, it’s better to commit to eliminating them and not cheat during that time (as hard as that can be!).
Make sure to keep a journal where you can write down what foods you eliminated, your feelings and processing during this time, how your baby is reacting, and anything else that will help you to determine how to proceed once your down with the four weeks.
After four weeks, bring one food item at a time, waiting four days before getting the next food item. You’ll want to track your baby’s reactions to these foods very carefully. It’s this stage where you determine specifically what the problem food is.
During the four weeks, you’ll start to see some improvements in your baby’s mood and crying, but it does take a full four weeks to see changes.
If you’re formula feeding, you should discuss with your doctor another formula to try to eliminate if it was that particular brand that was upsetting your baby. Also, give it 4-6 weeks before you determine if it was that brand, as it can take up to six weeks for milk protein to leave the baby’s body.
3. Introduce your baby to probiotics supplements.
And the great work of probiotics in your body is helping the digestive system function correctly and lining the gut with a layer of healthy protection. When you take a supplement or medication, for example, it’s the probiotics that break it down in your body.
When a baby has digestive problems, adding probiotics to the baby’s diet can make digestion stronger and ease discomfort.
You can purchase probiotics (like this one, this one, and this brand that we use) for your baby. Always consult with your pediatrician, but using probiotics have been continuously beneficial to my children.
4. Practice paced bottle feeding.
It’s easy to overfeed a baby. When a baby has too much milk (breastmilk or formula) it can be hard on their digestive system to process, and it can also cause heartburn (also known as reflux in a baby). Ouch! No wonder baby is crying and comfortable.
Practice paced feeding to avoid overfeeding your baby. With paced feeding, you will hold your baby at an angle close to your body. Then you place the nipple in the baby’s mouth and allow the baby to do 3-6 sucks of milk. After that, you tilt the bottle so that baby does not receive milk but still sucks on the nipple (which satisfies the need to suck that babies are born with). After 3-6 “dry sucks”, you then tilt the nipple again so that baby gets milk for the next 3-6 sucks.
Here’s a video showing how to do pace feeding with your baby to prevent overfeeding.
In between paced feeding, you’ll also want to stop to burp baby to make sure you receive any gas. If the idea of letting your baby dry suck bothers you, then using a paci in between the milk sucks works as well.
5. Burp baby after every feeding.
Burping is a way to remove the gas that baby may have swallowed during feeding. You can also burp the baby when the baby seems uncomfortable as if he’s trying to get gas out.
During the early weeks of feeding baby, I recommend that you burp the baby in the middle of the feeding. If after a minute or two of burping baby there is no burp, then baby did not have any gas at that time, and it's ok to stop burping baby.
Here's my favorite video to show how to burp a baby.
6. Improve your mental health
Your mental health can affect your baby. The research shows that mothers who are depressed or are experiencing mood disorders will have babies that are also experiencing depression.
Believe me that I am not saying this to make a depressed mother feel even more depressed. I’m sharing this because it may provide clarity as to why your baby is struggling with colic.
The good news is that there’s help for mothers who are struggling with mental health disorders. You do not need to do this alone.
Postpartum Support International is a non-profit that helps mothers with postpartum mental health challenges. They provide a toll-free number for mothers to call at any time, as well as local groups and a list of professionals that are available to help mothers. (I’m one of their listed professionals).
I’m also here for you. I provide a healing form of Hypnotherapy that specializes in pregnancy, postpartum and motherhood.
7. Carry baby close to your body before the onset of colic.
I have found that for babies struggling with colic if parents hold them close to their bodies before the onset of colic, there’s a good chance that baby won’t experience colic that evening.
Touch is powerful and healing. And it also brings security to babies. Plus, if you're using a baby carrier, like the Boba Baby Wrap, you can do so comfortably all evening.
Most babies experience colic in the evening, so you’ll want to clear your calendar for the evening during this time, make dinner easy (ie, grocery delivery, meal kits, or take-out) and get ready just to enjoy your baby while watching your favorite shows.
You can do this.
Colic babies are a mystery to parents...and the medical community! But, colic babies have a reason why they cry uncontrollably for hours and why they are so uncomfortable.
With a holistic approach to colic, you can find what is causing colic for your baby and find natural remedies and solutions to help your baby feel comfortable once again.
Did your baby have colic? Comment below with what worked for you.