You had just settled into a comfortable routine with your new baby when, at about 3 weeks old, they start fussing and crying for hours each evening. Welcome to one of the most challenging aspects of parenting a baby: colic.

infant with colic crying While colic sounds like a disease, it’s simply the name for excessive crying during a baby’s first few months. “The good news about colic is that it typically lasts until the baby is about 3 months old, then magically disappears,” says Catherine Bonita, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with expertise in newborn care and nutrition at CHOP’s Primary Care location in Flourtown, PA.

That’s also the bad news. A few months of trying to soothe a colicky baby through the evening can seem like a very long time.

Does your baby have colic?

All babies have periods of crying and fussing. It’s considered colic when the crying goes on for more than three hours a day for more than three days a week. The crying is often accompanied by burping and other signs of gas, which may be because the baby is swallowing air when they cry.

When parents come to her about a crying baby who isn’t easily consoled, Dr. Bonita asks questions and examines the baby to rule out health problems. If the baby is eating well and growing, has no vomiting or diarrhea, and follows a pattern of extended crying in the evening (rather than all day long) it is probably colic.

Colic typically starts when babies are about 3 weeks old, with extended periods of crying in the evening, between 6 p.m. and midnight. The long crying spells usually end when the baby is about 3 months old, though some babies continue to have crying spells until they are 6 months old.

How can you soothe a baby with colic?

As you get to know your baby, you learn to check for the obvious causes of distress when they cry. Are they hungry? Are they hot or cold? Does their diaper need changing? Are they over-stimulated? A baby with colic might be crying for one of those reasons. Or they may be crying for a reason you can’t understand.

Once you’ve checked on their possible physical needs and sources of discomfort, it’s time to go into comforting mode, using whatever technique helps to calm your baby. Every baby is different, and what works for one may not work for another.

With that in mind, here are some ways to soothe a baby with colic:

  • Hold and cuddle your baby.
  • Walk with your baby.
  • Swaddle your baby in a soft blanket.
  • Sing and talk softly to your baby.
  • Sway back and forth while you hold your baby, or find other ways to gently rock her. Some babies are calmed by a swing.
  • Gently rub your baby’s back.
  • Change your baby’s position: Sit them up if they have been lying down, or hold them face-out if they have been facing your chest.
  • Hold your baby near low, rhythmic noises, like the sound of the washing machine or a recording of a heartbeat. The steady hum of a fan or a white noise machine can also be soothing.
  • Go for a ride in the car. The motion and noise of a car ride helps to calm some babies.
  • Give your baby a pacifier. Many babies are calmed by sucking, and a pacifier can satisfy this need between feedings.

Take care of yourself, too

It can be stressful when your baby cries for no obvious reason and isn’t easily soothed. Your baby needs you to be calm, too, and that can be hard if you are tired.

If you find yourself getting tense or angry as your baby cries, try breathing deeply to help yourself relax. If that’s not enough, lay your baby down in a safe place and go into another room for 10 or 15 minutes. Lie down, listen to calming music, do a household chore or take other steps to calm yourself. When you feel ready, go back and pick up your baby.

Ask friends or family members to relieve you at times so you can go for a walk outside, take a nap or have some time to yourself. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. Restoring your ability to be calm can be the best thing you can do for your baby.

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