The Enormously Helpful Tip for Colicky Babies You Likely Have Not Heard Yet! (These colic tips will also help babies, toddlers and adults sleep well!)
There is no actual definition for or known cause of colic beyond it being a term that describes a period of evening infant crying lasting longer than an hour and repeating on multiple evenings. Sometimes it is clearly gas and changing mom’s diet or formula can make a big difference. But sometimes it isn’t gas or constipation. The solutions I give below are what I often suggest in my gentle sleep coaching practice and it is one of the suggestions that gets the most positive “it’s working!” feedback. There are many theories on what colic is or what will help it but I will let you read that elsewhere and gift you with the below info:
Barring other gastrointestinal issues like a milk intolerances (to dairy formula or something mom is eating that is getting to baby through breastmilk), Newborn Hormone Immaturity is in my experience the number one cause of crying spells in babies that seem to happen primarily in the evenings. You have likely heard of babies Day-Night reversal “reverse cycling” which is sleeping all day and being awake and eating all night- well this is similar and related. Simply put, Newborn Hormone Immaturity is absolutely normal and natural.
In utero, babies did not experience circadian rhythms of the sun coming up and going down. They come out into the world hormonally unregulated except for information which comes from parent attention, skin contact, feeding, milk itself and then eventually, LIGHT AND DARK EXPOSURE. These things will gradually and slowly influence the regulation of hormones in baby that will eventually align with the planetary circadian rhythms of this planet going around the sun.
Newborns do not produce melatonin (the natural night time sleep hormone) on their own until around 3 months or after. Adults usually produce melatonin at night and more of its opposite -cortisol (stress hormone), in the morning. Newborns do produce the stress hormone cortisol at any time and seemingly more in the evening and what’s more, infant crying with a spike in cortisol is evolutionarily designed to trigger cortisol (“Parent, do something to try and help!”) stress in the parent.
What Can You Do To Help Your Baby?
-Get your baby used to the comings and goings of the sun each day. Take your baby for a walk at dusk. Let her body feel the planet cooling down, let her see the sun doing down and turn into dark. Imagine that if you lived in a society that worked outside more, with our babies on our backs, they would fall into a circadian rhythm hormone production pattern sooner than our always-indoors babies. Families in these societies do not report colic.
– Walk outside with baby into the early morning light for at least 15 minutes. Even on your porch in your pajamas.
-Take your baby outside at other times during the daylight hours as well. 10 minutes daily of indirect sunlight on baby’s skin is healthy.
-These walks outside have the added benefit of lowering parental stress. I believe babies feel our stress and so doing what you can to remain as calm as possible even while holding a crying baby can go a long way.
-If you can feed with your body (or with milk pumped in the evening), do it often at dusk and later as long as baby is awake. Your own melatonin travels to baby through breastmilk to help their sleep. This will be more effective if you can keep your own body relaxed, off of phone and TV, and in dim lights or the dark rather than brighter light.
-Hold your baby and breathe. If baby has been fed, diaper has been changed- your job is not to panic and switch back and forth from a zillion soothing methods. Hold baby against your chest and breathe. Crying in arms will not hurt your baby.
-Try my signature colic hold specifically for gas: baby’s spine pressed on your tummy, tush held, thighs pulled up to press against abdomen.
If for some reason this miracle colic relieving plan still isn’t working, you might be interested in hearing more about gut imbalances, milk intolerances in babies and more, listen to this podcast with Dr. Aviva Romm.
If you want some more help with infant and toddler sleep challenges FIND MY SLEEP PAGE HERE.
Love, Moorea Malatt
Related Studies and Books:
Rivkees SA, Mayes L, Jacobs H, Gross I. 2004. Rest-activity patterns of premature infants are regulated by cycled lighting. Pediatrics. 113(4):833-9.
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This Ian some excellent information and things I never realized about baby hormone development. Luckily, my babies have been pretty good about bed.
Very informative post! One of my twins was very colicky. Wish I had known these factors before!
Love the tips about bringing your baby outside! Sometimes nature is the best cure! 🙂
Interesting. I wish I had this article three years ago!
Excellent information for anyone with a newborn!
I wish I had this advice 6 months ago as my daughter was very colicky! Great post, thanks for sharing 🙂
Colic can be so hard for little ones. These sound like helpful tips!