Having a colicky baby can be extremely difficult on a new mom. Learn how to help your colic baby get some sleep as well as additional tips for soothing a colicky baby.
What is Colic?
There are plenty of reasons why babies cry, but colic is a whole new level of tears. A colicky baby means an otherwise healthy baby who cries excessively. Doctors and parents use the term colic to describe a baby who is constantly fussy for no obvious reason.
The rule of three is often used to diagnose colic:
- Your baby’s crying lasts at least three hours
- Long crying episodes happen at least three times a week
- It continues for at least three consecutive weeks
The number three never sounded like such a big number, but for a mom who has a baby with colic, these three things can make for a very long month!
What is the Main Cause of Colic?
There are plenty of theories of what causes colic in a baby and why a colic baby won’t sleep, but the exact cause still remains a mystery. No one has been able to define exactly why a baby gets colic!
Some of the theories of colic in babies include:
- Reflux: Infant GERD can trigger colic.
- Food allergies or sensitivity: Food sensitivities from a mother’s diet can be painful to your baby and cause colic symptoms if breastfeeding. Foods like cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts, dairy, and fish can be especially problematic. Babies who are formula-fed can also have difficulty processing certain formulas.
- Tobacco exposure: Smoking during or after birth increases the chance of a colicky baby.
- Sensory overload: The world is all new to our infants. Some babies are able to handle this new sensory experience better than others.
How Can I Help My Colic Baby Sleep?
If you’ve tried switching formulas, changing your diet, and ruling out other medical conditions with your doctor, and are still left with an inconsolable baby, getting your baby with colic to sleep can seem impossible!
You’re both probably desperate for a little rest during the day and night and would give anything to make it happen!
There are some things you can do to help get your colicky baby some sleep. These are things recommended for all babies, but can be especially helpful for those babies with colic.
Newborns can only be awake for a short amount of time before they need to sleep again! Their awake time is just about enough time for you to feed them and change their diaper. Then, they’re ready for a nap.
Watch your baby’s sleepy cues and be aware that most newborn babies can only stay awake for 30 to 60 minutes until about 11 weeks of age. Get them ready for their next nap so you avoid an overtired baby.
A baby with colic may not exhibit the sleepy cues (or may exhibit them all the time) so if that’s the case, the clock will be your friend. Try to follow a baby sleep schedule for naps and feedings so your baby starts to gain a sense of predictability.
2. Use the 5 S’s
Dr. Harvey Karp invented the 5 S’s as a method to comfort and soothe fussy babies. These techniques can work for all babies, but can be especially helpful with babies who have colic:
- Swaddle: Wrapping your baby in a tight-knit burrito can be very comforting to them. See these tips if you think your baby hates the swaddle!
- Side/Stomach: Hold your baby against your stomach on their side or stomach to help calm them. You can also hold them up on their side in their crib until they calm down. (But always put them to sleep on their back to help reduce the risk of SIDS).
- Shush: Use a white noise sound machine when your baby sleeps. You can also hold them close to you and make a loud shushing noise in their ear. This can feel odd but can be very comforting to colicky babies!
- Swing: Sway your baby from side-to-side using your body.
- Suck: Offer a pacifier to provide your newborn with their non-nutritive need for sucking.
3. Create an Environment that is Conducive for Sleeping
There is a lot of stimulation for babies to take in during the day! New lights, sounds, smells, and everything else this world offers them can be exciting but also overwhelming.
When it’s time for sleep, make sure baby’s sleeping space is calm and conducive for sleep. That means a dark room and white noise playing in the background.
Use a good pair of blackout curtains in your nursery to blockout the light and don’t worry about a nightlight. Use a white noise sound machine that continuously runs throughout your baby’s sleep to muffle outside noises and create that soothing sleep environment that babies need.
4. Use the Shush-Pat
With the shush pat, you place baby in their crib, gently roll her to her side as you continue to hold her, and gently pat her back while making a shushing noise near her ear. This is soothing to your baby!
We used to do this when my daughter was a baby and it totally worked!
5. Prioritize Naps
Sleep begets sleep. If a baby is overtired, they will have an even harder time settling down for sleep. And once they finally get to sleep, they’ll struggle to stay asleep.
Don’t think that if your baby with colic missed all their naps for the day, they’ll sleep better at night. It will be the opposite!
While I teach parents to practice eat / play / sleep, it can be especially helpful for a baby with colic. Taking a feed after your baby wakes up gives them a chance to be upright and their tummy time to settle before lying down again.
If your baby truly has colic, then you will likely be in survival mode. Some parents mistake colic for over-tiredness or reflux, so make sure to rule out any other issues before assuming your baby has colic.
Sometimes we just need to get our babies to sleep however we can—babywear, holding baby to sleep, etc.
Best Sleeping Position for Colic Baby
The only safe sleeping position for all babies is on their back. If you’re having trouble getting your baby with colic to sleep, it can be helpful to hold them on their side as you do the 5 S’s or the Shush Pat.
Little Bear Care has some great tips to help survive life with a colicky baby including the colic hold and how to burp a baby with colic.
Remember that for most babies who have colic, it disappears by 3 months old. I know that’s a really long time when you’re dealing with it, but it won’t be forever!
If you think your baby with colic can benefit from learning healthy sleep habits, I’d love to help! I can work with you and create a plan to set your baby up for healthy sleep. Find out more here.