If you are reading this post you are either expecting and want to make sure you are prepared or more likely, you have a colic baby. If you are already dealing with a colic baby, it might seem like an impossible task to make baby happy. I promise you, I understand exactly where you are. I never imaged that my baby would be colicky, but my first was a VERY colic baby.
Colic is a term used to describe very fussy babies. If you have a colic baby, getting told this definition is absolutely not helpful. It gives you no ways to deal with the situation. Having a colic baby can affect not only patience levels in a house but also impact breastfeeding and sleeping. Here, I share with you everything we learned on how best to calm the colic baby, and also what made a tremendous difference for L.
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Ways to calm a colic baby
1. Feed baby
This might seem silly to put as everyone knows to feed baby, but if this is your first, you might not know just how much to feed baby. Breastfeeding is hard and babies need to breastfeed a lot. If baby struggles to latch or is crying/screaming a lot at the breast, go to the breastfeeding section in this article.
Related Post: I wasn’t ready to breastfeed until someone told me this
2. Wear baby in a wrap
The first few months after birth are known as the fourth trimester because baby is still transitioning to life outside the womb. The wrap works similarly to how the swaddle works. It creates a cocoon, so baby feels secure and won’t feel Moro reflexes. However, the wrap works 100 times better than the swaddle for calming a baby. Why? When you walk with baby in a wrap, they experience motion, can listen to your heart beat and your breathing, and feel your warmth, just like in utero. The wrap is the perfect baby calming device.
If you place baby in and it doesn’t work right away, give it a chance. Put baby in the wrap (according to the instructions of your specific wrap), then start to squat, bounce on a yoga ball, sway or walk. While doing this, hold baby’s head if they are arching, as L did often when she got upset. While you are moving, try to sing or just shhhhhh. Give this a good few minutes.
Now once baby is calm, keep going until baby falls asleep. If baby needs a nap, I suggest wearing baby while they nap. However, if it has been close to 2 hours since the beginning of the last feeding, then this is a key time to get baby to nurse. Colic babies are challenging to get to latch because upset babies won’t latch. Once asleep, give baby about 5 minutes. Slowly take the wrap off while holding baby to your chest. This might take some help but eventually you will be a pro at this. The next step is free a boob, put baby in a breastfeeding position like cradle hold and gently stroke the baby’s cheek, which will result in baby turning in that direction, so stroke the cheek closest to your boob. Now calm and sleepy, baby will now latch on much easier. Once L was older, I got really good at nursing in a wrap or carrier, and that worked well for us.
I would pick the wrap you buy based on the month your baby is due. My favorite wrap is the Boba Wrap. The K’tan wrap is also good. A fabric ring sling is great for babies born in summer. The Ergo carrier with infant insert is another option if you don’t like the idea of a wrap.
Note: A warm bath can also be very soothing for baby as it mimics their in-utero environment.
3. Go Outside
There is just something about being in nature that no matter how little you are, is just calming. Babies will usually stop crying the minute you walk outside. If weather allows, try to go outside, even if it’s just right outside your front door. You can make it part of your daily routine to take baby on a walk in a wrap. Additionally, if it is cold, put baby in a wrap and bundle yourself up. Baby will stay nice and warm tucked in the cocoon on you.
4. Motion (Invest in a Swing)
Motion really seems to help colic babies so I highly suggest having a yoga ball in your house and a baby swing of some sorts. We had both an automated Rock n Play and a Mamaroo. Both of these Swings provide motion and tilt so baby isn’t laying flat. This is important as a lot of colic babies have tummy issues and lying flat can increase pain especially for acid reflux. Another swing I have heard good things about is the Graco Swing. I know many babies who slept in swings for the first few weeks of life. Also, if you don’t want to be holding baby for every nap, (which happens a lot with colic babies) I would use the swing as the method to transfer out of the wrap. I would get baby to fall asleep, then usually nurse baby if needed, and once asleep after a nice big feeding, I would place, ever so gently, into an ALREADY MOVING swing on a decent speed. So for L, motion never stopped. I would then take a receiving blanket and tuck her in all cozy. If she had just nursed and I put her to sleep using the wrap method, I would transfer her directly from the wrap to the swing.
PLEASE do not worry about creating bad sleep habits, at this age, you can’t. First, all sleep professionals agree that sleep training should never be done before 4 months, and some say 6 months. No matter your opinion on the method, your focus should be on you and baby learning about each other and to increase your supply to ensure breastfeeding is a success. Having a colic baby makes things extra challenging so just focus on the present and trying to find ways to make these months easier.
5. Massage to Relieve Gas
Gas can be a source of discomfort and result in a very fussy baby. At this point, they actually don’t know how to engage the correct muscles to fart so it can become pretty painful. Place baby with their tummy on your thighs to provide some pressure to help relieve gas. After this, lay baby on their back and start the tummy rub. Go in a clockwise circle starting at the end of the ribcage. Keep going in circles until you reach the belly button. Then take baby’s feet and knees up to their chest, a few times. If this does not relieve gas, I strongly suggest investing in a product called Windi. It is best used after the tummy massage and knees to chest movement. After a tummy massage, insert the Windi and give it a few moments to work. It might also help baby poop, which could be another reason baby is in pain. Like farting, baby doesn’t know how to engage the muscles needed to poop. It really worked wonders for us. Some nights, L would be screaming for hours and when we finally were able to relieve some of the gas buildup, she instantaneously fell asleep on the diaper pad. I highly suggest reading the reviews on Amazon, they are hilarious and tell of its magic power.
6. Check everything
Undress baby and check that nothing is physically wrong like a string or hair caught around a toe that is cutting off circulation. Check temperature and see if baby has a fever. Baby might also feel hot or cold and might just need to be dressed differently. Add some diaper paste to a butt rash, it might be causing pain.
7. Start Taking Probiotics (for you and baby)
When a baby is born, they need to develop their gut bacteria for good digestion and it’s YOUR breastmilk that develops baby’s gut bacteria. You can help this process out by taking a probiotic supplement and eating lots of fermented foods that promote good bacteria. There are also probiotics for baby. Check with your pediatrician before. In fact, scientific studies now prove that probiotics is a solution for the colic baby.
Breastfeeding the Colic baby
You finally get baby to latch on. Your milk lets down and once they finally get some milk, they pop off screaming or crying. What’s wrong? Why is baby pulling off after finally get some milk? L and I had this exact problem, so here is what we found to cause the issue and the steps we took to fix it.
As a first time mom when L was born, I received a lot of help at the hospital to get breastfeeding off to a good start. I nursed L a LOT (more than every 2 hours) to ensure my supply would ramp up and stay high. I met with a lactation consultant the first week home who fixed my first problem which was to get L to latch on and stay on long enough to get a letdown.
Four possible things to check first
First, see if baby has a burp. A lot of times, a baby needs burping during breastfeeding, not just after. This might be your case especially if you have a very forceful letdown.
2. Letdown Strength or Acid Reflux
Next, your letdown might be too strong. Nursing works by your body responding to baby sucking on your boob by letting down your milk. To gauge how forceful your letdown is, see how long one full letdown lasts by pumping. Most babies learn to adjust to your letdown but a way to help them if your letdown is too strong would be to try nursing laying down (my favorite nursing position is in bed with baby and me laying side by side). Another option is to clamp down on the areola to help slow down the flow of milk.
When a baby has acid reflux, you might not notice. Some babies spit up a lot. Others are just in pain and therefore cry a lot like a colic baby. One thing you might notice is that when baby nurses, even if they are getting milk, they pop off, arch their back and scream. This is because once milk hits their tummy, the acids from their stomach travel up a little causing a burn. Unfortunately, baby can’t tell you this but if you think at all this could be your child, I would talk to a pediatrician or a lactation consultant immediately. Prescription medications work wonders for acid reflux, which most babies grow out of in their first year.
3. Baby is Frustrated
Baby might be impatient (as most babies are) because they get hungry so quickly and might not be able to wait for a let-down, so they pull off to let you know THEY ARE HUNGRY! They communicate this feeling in the only way they know how, which is screaming. Whatever you do, do NOT use the pacifier to calm them as this makes the problem worse, because they aren’t getting food but think it’s coming because they are sucking. Instead, either start the let-down yourself via manual pumping, try again with baby once baby is calm, or use some pumped milk.
A simple trick to help get baby back on is to use pumped milk. If your baby is on and off your boob, screaming and crying, have your partner hold baby or put baby in a swing and grab your pumping gear. Have the pump do the hard work of getting a let-down started. Once your let-down starts, switch back to your baby or give baby some of the pumped milk via a dropper. The milk from the dropper will be enough to calm baby so that baby re-latches and drinks. This exercise will also let you understand how long in the evening it takes before your milk lets down. Time on breast doesn’t mean a certain amount of milk. If you don’t pump much in the evening and it takes forever, your milk supply is probably NOT low. This is normal. The milk is very fatty in the evening (gearing baby up for a long sleep). Your hormones to produce milk replenish overnight so they are lowest in the evening, hence less milk.
4. Increasing your Milk Supply
If your baby just started crying after latching, then baby might be trying to increase your milk supply. Baby wants more than you are producing so baby must tell your body to produce more by nursing a ton. Your little one will actually work on increasing your milk supply a lot up until 3 months which is when it establishes. If you go with on-demand nursing you will be producing the perfect amount for your baby. Baby knows best and will want to nurse a lot when they grow to ensure their food supply also grows. A great way to help baby not be so frustrated is to increase night nursing for a few nights and cluster feed in the morning after your milk hormones have replenished overnight.
Our issue and how we fixed it
My biggest issue that took me weeks to figure out was that once my milk let down, L would pull off after a few minutes crying. It would now be even harder to get her to re-latch on because she was hungry and upset but I would also have milk everywhere. In addition to this feeding issue, L was colic. She would cry in the evening and into the night. We would spend many nights holding her while walking the hallway. I now think that part of her colic was related to our breastfeeding issue because the two cleared up simultaneously over a weekend after we made a few changes.
The underlying issue was that once my milk letdown and she got some milk in her tummy the milk was hurting her tummy. Because breast milk is digested so quickly, she would already start to feel bad and therefore pull off and cry. In the evening, babies usually try to intake more milk to prepare for a long sleep. Hence, a very fussy baby at night who had an extra bad tummy ache. None of the breastfeeding tips I found helped me until I went to see a nutritionist who specializes in infant nutrition. We discovered that L had a food intolerance. After changing my diet, I went from having a baby who cried a LOT and was awful at nursing to a baby who loved to nurse and NEVER cried in about 3 days.
WHAT IS A FOOD INTOLERANCE?
When nursing, a small percentage of everything you eat or drink ends up in breastmilk. When babies are very young, they can have “food intolerances” to something in your breastmilk. This is NOT a real allergy and usually completely clears up by 1 year. Babies don’t produce antibodies yet at this stage so a true allergy can’t exist. A food intolerance means that as their systems are developing and maturing, certain foods are too harsh and they need more time before being introduced to them. Think of it like a milestone, every baby crawls at a different age and grows differently. Their digestion system does the same. Other symptoms of a food intolerance include baby being very gassy and mucus in their poop. The mucus is from their intestinal tract and should stay there, but with an intolerance it doesn’t because their gut flora hasn’t stabilized yet. The gut flora anchor the mucus and protect against a leaky gut. Probiotics and other supplements can help your baby establish a healthy gut flora.
FIVE THINGS THAT MADE A BIG DIFFERENCE FOR ME
First, why did these changes work? The nutritionist explained to me that a baby’s digestion system is very new and sometimes needs time to mature and build up good gut bacteria. The colic crying especially in the evening (when digestion happens) is usually related to a tummy that hurts. Some babies can’t handle certain foods (usually allergy inducing foods) even at trace amounts in your breastmilk. You SHOULD still breastfeed as it is still the BEST option, formula is much worse on sensitive tummies with lots of harsh ingredients. You might just need to make a few changes to your diet. All babies will respond differently and their systems will mature differently (just like any milestone). Usually by 1 year, any food intolerance your baby had will disappear and your little one will be able to enjoy all types of food.
1. CHANGE YOUR PRENATAL PILLS
The inactive ingredients in every brand of prenatal pills are different. The one I was taking contained dairy and soy. I took it out of my diet for a week then tried new ones until I found one that worked (it was allergy free). Check any other medications you are on also and see if you can get ones that are allergy free. The reason behind this is because while baby might not have an allergy, their digestion system is very new and need time to mature and allergenic foods are very harsh on their systems.
2. GIVE UP DAIRY
All mammalian species can produce milk but the composition varies widely for each species. Cow’s milk contains a lot of protein, sodium, potassium, phosphorus and chloride that can strain an infant’s immature kidneys. Additionally, the protein, fats and calcium in whole cow’s milk are difficult for an infant to digest and absorb. Cow’s milk contains a ratio of 80:20 of casein to whey whereas human milk contains a ratio of casein to whey of 40:60.
So when you, a nursing mama, consume dairy milk, trace amounts enter your milk supply. The cow’s milk can affect the ratio of casein and whey in your milk, which makes your breastmilk more difficult to digest. Additionally, cow’s milk has different proteins in it than breastmilk and these might also be causing a tummy ache.
The same goes for other foods. If you find baby does better if you don’t eat gluten for a week, then baby was not able to handle the small amount of gluten that was entering your breastmilk.
Also, if you (or the baby) was on antibiotics recently, this likely wiped out all of their good gut flora making foods, such as cow’s milk, more difficult to digest.
3. EAT LOTS OF SEAWEED
Babies fart a lot because their systems are so new and they have not yet established good gut bacteria. Want to help their tummies out? The nutritionist we saw recommended eating a lot of seaweed. New research to try to reduce the amount cows fart shows that feeding them seaweed (of all things) dramatically helps. Nori is a great snack to keep around and I really love adding dulse to my salads. We also were recommended umboshi plums, which comes as a paste you can add to rice or other meals, giving it great flavor. These plums are very alkalinizing and can help both you and baby.
4. TAKE A FISH OIL SUPPLEMENT
Nothing is better for your baby than to be able to get an ample supply of DHA (omega 3) which is found in fish oil. The ratio of omega 3 to 6 is important, omega 6 can cause inflammation but is also essential for brain development like omega 3. For a full description of omega 3 and 6, see here. After doing research and getting a nutritionist’s opinion, I now take the Nordic Naturals supplement. DHA is found in breastmilk so keeping your supply high is great for baby. A baby’s brain grows like crazy, in the first 90 days, brains increase 64 percent in size. This probably won’t do much to fix the issue but is just a great thing to do for your baby and yourself anyway.
Want another resource?
Holly at The Fussy Baby Site has dedicated so much time and effort to provide high quality information to parents. Her blog not only specializes in Colic but also in High Needs Babies. If you are in the thick of it with a colic baby, I highly recommend checking out her Colic Baby eBook. So many resources just point out the symptoms of a colic baby but Holly has real solutions along with up-to-date research on the subject. She also has done surveys from her parent support groups to find out just how well each solution has worked for those parents with colic babies.
What else can you do?
Try eliminating food groups from your diet starting with the most common food items known to be problematic. This includes: dairy, soy and gluten. Try removing each one for a week, you should start to see a change after about a three days. Only remove one at a time to see which foods cause issues. The most common issue is dairy. If there is a second issue, the baby usually can’t tolerate dairy and soy. Other foods to avoid include anything citrus because it makes your milk more acidic. This includes tomatoes, oranges and lemons.
Colic babies are fussiest in the evenings, you can save a lot of time each week by prepping freezer meals, Alli has a great post on how she stocked up on freezer meals before she had her daughter.
For a more in-depth look at breastfeeding, check out my post about every piece of information that I wouldn’t have been able to breastfeed successfully without. Breastfeeding is hard without the right knowledge and support, join our free 5 day course as a step in that path to succeed. You got this!
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Dr. Trina Fitzpatrick is a wife, mom, blogger, and a breastfeeding advocate. She is the co-author of the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook. She attributes her success at breastfeeding her own children into toddlerhood with working with lactation consultants in the hospital in the early stages and on a weekly basis afterwards. By writing at MomSmartNotHard, she educates mamas-to-be on all things pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Read more about Trina.