All babies start to cry more at about 3 weeks old, peaking at 6 weeks and tailing off at about 12 weeks. Colic is not a medical diagnosis; it is just a word that means ‘we don’t know why this healthy baby is crying more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week, for more than 3 weeks’.
It may be due to a combination of neurological immaturity, the sensory overload of being introduced to the world and wind issues. We do know that although babies in traditional cultures who are carried all day and have constant access to the breast have shorter bouts of crying, all human babies have a peak in crying activity at 6 weeks old. So it's not you! It's not something you're doing. It can be very upsetting for parents watching their baby cry and feeling like there is nothing they can do to help, but try to keep in mind that the important thing is that you support your baby through their crying and accept that it is not possible for you to stop all crying.
I recently read an amazing scientific hypothesis that colic might be due to babies not being able to separate out their breathing and vocalising, as colic occurs at the age where they are transitioning from one type of control of breathing by the nervous system to a different type which will ultimately allow them to speech-breathe when they learn to talk. If you like to read sciencey stuff and won't freak yourself as it also goes into the possible mechanisms by which this may influence risk of SIDS then the full article is available here:
Here are some basic colic tips that may help you ride out this difficult period: -
1. Use colic holds - the tiger in the tree hold is particularly popular. You can also drape them over your knees, or over a physio ball (make sure they don't fall off!) or lay them on their tummy on a warm (not hot like we would have it) wheat bag - under direct supervision of course.
2. Use rhythmic movement as well as swaddling, shushing and patting (some babies get more stimulated by this but most like it).
3. Try bicycling your baby's legs or gently bringing his knees up towards his chest to dislodge farts!
4. Make sure you are adequately winding your baby. First time Mums are usually a bit too gentle with winding. You might get a bit fed up with you Mum, MIL, aunties etc giving you out of date advice, but they are usually great at winding – so watch and learn! Contrary to popular belief, breastfed babies do need winding. However don’t waste too long on it if a burp just isn’t coming and they need to go to sleep.
4. If your baby has some settled periods during the small hours and the day but tends to get worse and cluster feed from around 4pm - midnight, this is unfortunately pretty normal.
5. If your baby has very few settled periods throughout each 24 hour cycle and/ or wants to feed every 1.5 hrs throughout the day and night (remember cluster feeding is normal, but not through the whole day & night) then there may be a feeding issue.
6. If your baby is in pain during or after feeds with or without vomiting then look into reflux symptoms and see if this is a possibility.
7. If your baby seems overwhelmed by the force of your let down reflex and is choking on milk, this may contribute to excessive wind. You can use a pump to stimulate let down then stop pumping and let the first excess squirt into a sterilised container for storage or discard and then latch baby on. And / or let your baby feed in such a way that the milk has to travel against gravity. If your baby is quite laid back, you can also let them stimulate the let down, take them off for one minute while the fastest bit squirts out and then pop them back on. Some babies are too impatient for that though!
8. Dummies may help once breastfeeding is established. Sucking reduces pain. If you are breastfeeding you can allow comfort sucking too but if you have a tendency to oversupply, and/or a very fast let down reflex or a baby with reflux you may need to get some advice from someone like me on how to balance out the need for sucking without accidentally exacerbating any digestive issues.
9. If your baby is gaining a lot of weight but seems hungry all the time, has frothy green stools and screams when having a bowel movement, you may have an issue with over supply and resulting lactose overload, but that is a separate post in itself.
10. Chiropractic and homeopathic treatment may be worth a try.
11. Tag team it. Take it in turns to soothe the baby and get away from the crying for just a few minutes when it is not your turn. Don't stand there watching someone else holding your crying baby.
12. If you are on your own, you have tried everything and can't think of what else to do, put your baby in his cot and go in to the garden; stick your fingers in your ears and take some deep breaths until you feel calmer and then go back and try again.
13. Try singing to your baby (even if you are rubbish at singing, babies quiet faster for songs than speech) and playing womb music.