6 Ways to Help Your Infant Through Colic

more hugs, less fuss
A newborn baby looks uncomfortable and cries while lying on a white bed.
© Can Stock Photo / photobac

It’s not only heartbreaking to watch your tiny babe struggle with the pain of colic, it can also be incredibly exhausting trying to help them through those seemingly endless hours of crying, screaming, and obvious discomfort. While the cause of colic itself is somewhat of a mystery (although it does seem to be inextricably linked to the digestive and nervous systems), fortunately there are well-established techniques to relieve baby’s distress and bring some peace to your household.

Symptoms of colic

Colic is an incredibly common ailment affecting one in five babies. It is defined as extended periods of crying in otherwise healthy babies that happens three or more times per week and lasts for longer than three weeks. Typically starting at three weeks of age and remedying itself by four months, colic is typified by symptoms that include baby pulling up their legs, clenching their fists, or passing a lot of gas. Some babies may also have hard, distended bellies filled with gas. And while gas itself doesn’t cause colic, it can certainly lead to the discomfort and crying associated with it. Fussy periods usually last over three hours, often extending into the nighttime.

Please relieve me...

Check the latch or bottle flow. These can cause babies to swallow a lot of air, or get too much milk too fast, which can contribute to digestive upset.

Infant probiotics can help support baby’s immature gut and bolster their microbiome. Remember: digesting food is a big job babies have never had to do before and sometimes a probiotic can be just the ticket.

Castor oil tummy rubs have anti-inflammatory benefits and can help calm an upset stomach. Rub the oil on the tummy in a clockwise motion, just before those witching evening hours begin.

Fennel tea is known to relax the intestines and relieve gas. Make a tea by adding 1 tsp of fennel seeds to 8 ounces of boiling water. Cover and steep for 30 minutes. A nursing mama can drink one cup, two times per day, and her baby will get the benefits through the breastmilk. For bottle-fed babies, a dropperful of tea can be added to their bottle, twice daily.

Stay close, aim for lots of skin-to-skin contact, wear your baby and carry, sway with, and rock them as much as possible. Having your baby attached to you while you try out some soothing techniques not only gives them a sense of security and physical closeness to you, but also settles their agitated nervous system.  

Keep calm, maintain a predictable and comforting daily routine. Avoid overstimulating your baby with bright lights and loud noises, and create a calming environment with low lights, soft sounds, and gentle voices. Adopt a pattern that focuses on sleep—if everyone gets a good night’s rest, they can weather almost anything!

Is it GERD in disguise?

Reflux can be the culprit as babies with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are at a higher risk of colic. If the lower esophageal sphincter in newborns isn’t quite developed, the muscle that keeps stomach acid from flowing back up into the throat and mouth can irritate the esophagus, causing pain. Symptoms include frequent spitting up, poor eating, irritability, and possibly slow weight gain. Most babies do outgrow GERD by the time they are one, but it’s worth assessing for a colicky baby.

Having a colicky baby is likely not how you envisioned your fourth trimester, and caring for a constantly crying baby can be both physically and emotionally exhausting, even in a two-parent household where both are supporting each other! Lean on friends and family members whenever possible—especially those who have experience with colic, as they’ll often feel motivated and welcome the challenge to help with this problem! Take it one day at a time, with love and deep breaths, and remember that this too shall pass.

It's true: everything is a phase. Remember that mantra as you head into the fourth month sleep regression!