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There has been many a tired mama who has drug herself into the pediatricians office with hopes of understanding why her baby is crying so much.
Does my baby have colic?
Am I doing something wrong?
Am I producing enough milk?
What can I do to make my baby stop crying so much?
Mama, you are not alone. I, myself, have had these thoughts and gone to my pediatrician office in search of answers. And with every child I was told something different. I was told I had a gassy baby or that she was colicky and nothing cold be done. After a lot of experience, hearing many stories and doing plenty of reading, I have learned so much more about what colic is.
But first, let me me explain that according to Dr. Marc Weissbluth, colic has ‘…no standard or universally accepted definition or diagnostic criteria.’ That’s not exactly encouraging, is it? Well, it may not seem like that is what we want to hear, but the truth is that Weissbluth has done significant study of colicky babies both in assessing decades of studies as well as with the families in his pediatric practice. So, he has a lot of knowledge about the characteristics of what could be defined as colic.
Your baby may be defined as colicky if:
- baby is healthy and well fed but is unsettled, agitated, has difficulty falling and staying asleep
- experiences ‘an unsettled, agitated, wakeful state that would lead to crying if ignored by parents’
- is fussy/cries for more than three hours a day, 3 days a week or more, for more than 3 weeks.
This typically begins around 2-3 weeks of age (based on gestational due date, not delivery date) and in 92% of cases, takes place between 5pm and midnight. Sorry, mama….this causes your sleep to take a hit.
If your baby doesn’t meet this criteria, but you are still worried about the amount of fussing and crying that is taking place, take heart! It is totally normal for newborns to spend about 2 hours, out of 24, fussing/crying. Their fussiness will increase to these 2-3 hours up until 6 weeks and then decrease, mostly disappearing anywhere from 2-4 months.
A Mayo Clinic study found that, of the average 2 hours a day that babies cry, time spent crying was attributed to the following:
- 36% of crying is due to hunger
- 21% of crying is due to a wet diaper
- 8% of crying is due to a dirty diaper
- 35% of crying is for an unknown reason
See that?! More than 1/3 of the time a baby spends crying is for an unknown reason. This really means that you can’t do much for baby other than offer comfort.
Now, let’s look at what Weissbluth has come to believe about colic.
- At birth, high levels of melatonin (hormone that helps control sleep/wake cycles) cross the placenta from mom to baby
- This drops significantly after several days and then abruptly increases around 3 months (more at night, less during the day)
- Serotonin (a hormone that regulates mood, behavior, appetite, sleep, digestion) is high and present in infants during their first month and then drops around 3 months.
- Serotonin causes contractions on the muscles around the gut while melatonin helps relax those muscles
- A baby’s serotonin concentrations are at their highest in the evenings
- Theory: in some infants, these high serotonin levels cause painful gastrointestinal cramps.
- Weissbluth also found that extremely fussy/colicky babies had a ‘blunted rhythm in cortosol.’
Weissbluth’s overall findings are that colic can likely be:
- related to lack of sleep in the evening hours which creates an overtired baby
- due to hormone levels
The likely truth about colic: extreme fussiness/colic is something baby does, not something baby has. It is not a medical problem, but a stage of life.
Common treatments that may be offered at your pediatricians office include: probiotics, prebiotics, chiropractic treatments, acupuncture, simethicone (for gassiness), medicine for gastroesophagel reflux. These treatments do not have studies that show they are effective because they are related to a medical issue, trying to treat baby as though they have a condition. According the our unlikely truth about colic above, this is not true.
So, why do pediatricians continue to offer these treatments? The companies who make the medicines listed above often claim they can solve colic. Also, it is far easier for your pediatrician to finish up an office visit by offering a prescription that will solve the problem or referring you on to a specialist. If your pediatrician offers you one of these treatments, it is a good idea to ask the for evidence that supports their recommendation.
In reality, the treatment for colic is care.
Care for baby and for mama. Baby has no control over what is happening in her body and the only way she can communicate with you is to cry. Work to soothe baby by swaddling, holding her close to your body, making a shhhhhh sound in her ear and making quick, small side to side movements while holding her. Do what you need to do during this time to help baby get as much sleep as she can.
See this article for some extra tips on how to comfort baby as well as provide a great sleeping environment: 6 Tips To Get Baby To Sleep Through The Night
For mama, take breaks! Ask your husband/partner or an older sibling to hold baby for a time. And do. not. feel. guilty. Seriously. If you take care of yourself, you will better be able to take care of your sweet baby. Also, research shows that if you take care of yourself and receive help you are less likely to experience maternal depression. Your baby wants you to be healthy and happy as do the other members of your family. They love you and do not want you to suffer. So, ask for their help.
You are doing a great job, mama. You are rocking it, in fact. I know you are trying your hardest and you love your baby with all your heart. You both will come out of this just fine. A little tired, but fine.
Source: Weissbluth M.D., Marc. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Ballentine Books, New York. 2015.