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What causes colic in a baby has some explanations, but the cause isn’t exactly well understood. You can try calming a colicky baby by laying them on their stomach, switching formula, or swaddling. A pediatrician can also help.
Your baby is healthy, well-fed, and wearing a clean diaper, yet she’s been crying for hours. All babies cry, but colicky babies cry more than usual. This can be really frustrating for parents, but the good news is that colic is temporary and you’re not alone.
The condition is defined by frequent bouts of crying — not caused by a medical issue — often in the evening for three or more hours, and on a regular basis.
“The cause of colic is still not well understood. Some think it is because of neurological immaturity or acclimation to the world outside the womb, which can make some babies irritable for a short time span,” says Sona Sehgal, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist.
Dr. Sehgal, who works at Children’s National in Washington, D.C., suggests that parents discuss the baby’s symptoms with a pediatrician. The doctor can help you manage the issue, such as trying different comfort measures or changing feeding positions.
Because the cause can vary, there are no proven treatments for colic. However, you may be able to comfort your baby and shorten crying episodes if you’re able to figure out what triggers their colic.
Below, she recommends some techniques that may help soothe your colicky baby.
Lay your baby on their tummy, across your stomach or lap. The change in position may help calm some colicky babies. You can also rub your baby’s back, which is both soothing and may help gas pass through.
In addition, tummy time helps your baby build stronger neck and shoulder muscles. Remember to only put your baby on their tummy while they’re awake and under supervision.
Keeping your baby in motion may be enough to soothe colic. Try going for a drive with your baby or putting them in a baby swing.
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Having acid reflux that causes symptoms, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), may be a contributing factor for some babies with colic. Babies with GERD experience heartburn because the breast milk or formula is coming back up through their esophagus.
Holding the baby upright after feedings can reduce acid reflux symptoms. Lying on their back or reclining in a car seat after eating may make symptoms worse, causing the baby to be cranky.
Infant rice cereal can be added to either breast milk or formula as a thickening agent. Some doctors recommend this as another way to try to help reduce acid reflux episodes in babies with GERD.
Add 1 tablespoon of rice cereal to 1 ounce of formula or pumped breast milk. You may need to make the nipple hole in your baby’s bottle a tiny bit larger for the thicker liquid.
Be sure to check with your pediatrician before trying this tip, as there are several risks associated with this practice and most pediatricians no longer recommend it.
In this case, switching to an elemental formula or one with a different protein source may make it easier to digest. Learn about some alternatives here.
It takes about two days to notice an improvement. If your baby is still crying at the same rate, intolerance or allergy may not be the issue.
If you decide to try a different formula and see no change in your baby’s crying, it’s generally not helpful to continue trying other formulas. Talk to your doctor about which formula to use.
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Other steps you can take to soothe your baby’s colic include:
- swaddling them or wrapping them in a soft blanket
- massaging them with essential oils
- giving them a pacifier
- using a white noise machine to help them fall asleep
- placing them in a relaxing room that is not too hot, not too cold, and has soft lighting
- giving them gas drops containing simethicone, an ingredient that helps relieve the pain caused by gas bubbles; this may help if your baby is gassy
There are a couple home remedies people try that may carry risks.
- Elimination diet. If you breastfeed, you may consider eliminating certain foods from your diet, including potential allergens like dairy. Since strict elimination diets can be unhealthy and haven’t been shown to help with most cases of colic, talk with your doctor before making significant changes to your diet.
- Gripe water. Some people suggest giving your child gripe water, a liquid remedy containing herbs such as chamomile or lavender. As it’s not regulated, there is no way to know exactly what is in the gripe water you buy, and there are many different formulations. Gripe water doesn’t have any proven benefits, and given the unregulated nature of its sale, there are some risks associated with it.
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Take notice of what works (or doesn’t) to soothe your baby. This will help you pinpoint the best solution for restoring peace to your house and comfort to your little one.
Be sure to discuss any symptoms with your child’s pediatrician. Also consult them before trying any alternative remedies, including gripe water.
Rena Goldman is a journalist and editor who lives in Los Angeles. She writes about health, wellness, interior design, small business, and the grassroots movement to get big money out of politics. When she’s not staring at a computer screen, Rena likes to explore new hiking spots in Southern California. She also enjoys walking in her neighborhood with her dachshund, Charlie, and admiring the landscaping and architecture of LA homes she can’t afford.