During the first few months of adjusting to life our babies use crying as a form of communication. Sometimes the reason is obvious; other times, not so much. It can be tough when your baby won’t stop crying despite your best efforts. It might last for long periods, it can be stressful and it might make you worry that you are doing something wrong or that there is something wrong with your baby.
The term colic is used to describe the periods where babies cry for long periods for no obvious reason. They seem resistant to efforts towards comfort and settling them and they may cry for more than three hours a day for more than three days a week. It is not a medical condition, some experts believe may be connected to the development of the gastrointestinal system and that it is part of the adjustment to extrauterine life.
It is important to note that food allergy and reflux are very different conditions to colic, and if you are concerned this should be discussed with your GP.
Parents of babies experiencing colic say their child often looks angry, distressed or seem like they are in pain. They report they might have high pitched crying, hold their bodies stiff, pull their knees up or have a rigid stomach.
Often these symptoms can be distressing but in typical colic they tend to taper off after eight weeks and often end by the around the 12-14 week mark. It may feel endless and unbearable while you are in the midst of it, but it will end.
Babies cry for many reasons. It is the main way they are able to communicate, capture your attention and express their needs.
Reasons why a baby might be crying:
- “I am hungry”
- “I am tired”
- “I am bored”
- “I am uncomfortable” (wet/wet dirty nappy, itchy clothes, uncomfortable feeding position, too hot, too cold, tummy pain, teething etc.)
- “I miss my mummy”
- “I need cuddles”
- “I am not feeling well”
- “I am scared”
As you can imagine, with no other way to communicate, crying is a normal part of life with a small baby. The average amount of time a healthy baby will cry within a 24 hour period is about three hours. However, as with everything to do with babies, each will have their own version of normal with some healthy babies crying as much as six hours a day and some as little as two hours a day.
This crying often peaks at about two months of age and is often more prevalent in the evening, along with frequent feeding.
Coping with a crying, colicky, or unresponsive baby
It can be stressful when your baby won’t stop crying despite your best efforts to help them. It is totally normal to feel frustrated, tired, and overwhelmed in this period of time. Finding strategies that help you manage how you are feeling are important for yourself and for your baby.
Recognise your limits. Pay attention to internal warning signs when you are feeling overwhelmed. The sooner you spot your personal limits, the easier it is to plan ahead—for extra help, a break, an excursion outside, or a quick pep talk from a friend or loved one.
Remember that this is part of their development and is temporary. For most babies, crying peaks at six to eight weeks and then gradually eases off. There is an end to the crying on the horizon!
Reach out for support. If you can, enlist help during the fussiest times of the day. Say yes when people offer to help with housework, meals, or babysitting. Find a group of parents to talk to and get out of the house when you can.
You don’t have to be perfect. Parenting is not about perfection. It would be impossible to be fully present and attentive to an infant, especially a crying infant, 24 hours a day.
Things to try
If your baby seems to be crying for ‘no reason’, it can be helpful to attempt to recreate the womb environment and activate your baby’s calming reflex. Changing up a baby’s environment and providing them with differing sensory experiences can help them settle and cry less. Activities and experiences outside the home can also help to make the crying seem more manageable
Swaddling. Wrap your baby in a blanket so they feel secure.
Babywearing. Sometimes just being held close to your body either skin to skin or even in a baby wrap/carrier can be comforting.
Side or stomach position. Hold your baby so they’re lying on their side or stomach. But always put them on their back when going to sleep.
Shushing. Create “white noise” that drowns out other noises: run the vacuum cleaner, hairdryer, fan or clothes dryer.
Swinging. Create a rhythmic motion of any kind. For example, take your baby for a walk in the pram or a ride car, providing you feel safe to be at the wheel.
Sucking. Let your baby suck by frequent breastfeeding or the use of a dummy may be helpful.
Where to turn for help
If your baby is crying or upset often, you should seek help from your Child Health Nurse, GP, Lactation Consultant or paediatrician or a child development specialist.
Family or friends can help by giving you a break, a sympathetic ear and some reassurance.
Parent groups or playgroups can provide a safe environment to share experiences, advice, encouragement, and coping strategies. It also gives reassurance that this is normal and that you are not experiencing it alone
Parenting skills classes. Available in many areas, coaching and education for parents and caregivers can build necessary parenting skills and offer support and advice.
If you’re concerned, please phone One for Women to book an appointment on 9328 0500 or online here.