Q: Help! My husband and I just brought home our newborn baby from the hospital and all was bliss for the first few days. The baby just wanted to nurse and sleep, and everything seemed perfect … until he started screaming his head off. Now he won’t stop crying! My sister-in-law says he could have colic. I don’t even know what that means but it sounds serious. Got any natural remedies to ease the pain (for all of us)?
A: Hang in there — there is a light at the end of this tunnel.
First, let’s talk about colic. Your doctor will tell you your baby is “colicky” if he cries for more than three hours a day more than three days a week for at least three weeks in a row. Of course, once you make this diagnosis, you’ll hopefully be well on your way to a calm baby, since colic usually resolves itself by the time the baby has hit 12 weeks.
Colic can be caused by any number of things, but is often associated with gas. If this is the case with your baby, then you can try (under the guidance of your pediatrician) switching from a milk-based formula to a soy-based formula or perhaps switching to a predigested formula, which may be easier on his stomach. If you’re breast-feeding, it may help to look at your diet and cut out certain spicy or gas-inducing foods, such as broccoli or cabbage. Sometimes the colic is related to reflux, in which case your baby may have to be put on an acid-neutralizing medication.
There are many reasons for colic, and even if your baby doesn’t have it, there are lots of things you can try to soothe your fussy baby, and in turn, restore your sanity.
Dr. Harvey Karp, author of "The Happiest Baby on the Block," explains in his book that parents should view the first three months of a baby’s life as the “fourth trimester” — that is to say — a baby, fresh from a mother’s womb, still craves a womb-like environment and is not quite ready to be out in the world.
Therefore, he suggests that the best way to soothe a crying newborn is to try to re-create the same sensations he experienced in the womb. For example, in your womb, your baby was warm, protected and snuggled tightly. To re-create this effect, he suggests swaddling your newborn in a baby blanket. Need to perfect your swaddling technique? Check out this video.
Then, once he’s swaddled, try rocking him in your arms or in a swing. All babies love movement, which is why most babies fall asleep as soon as you start the car and pull out of the driveway. As many sleep-deprived parents know, the sounds and gentle hum of a moving car work wonders, but it’s not always practical to get in the car and drive around. If you rock your baby in your arms or in your swing, it can have the same effect.
Another thing that newborn babies love to do is suck — your breast, a pacifier and even your finger. I have sonogram pictures of my eldest son sucking his hand in the womb — I’m not sure why babies do this, but some babies come out with such a strong sucking urge that nothing else can calm them. So, once he’s swaddled and rocking, try popping a pacifier in his mouth.
For more on Karp’s calming solutions (which he calls the 5 S’s), check out his book. Even if you don’t have time to read the whole thing, it’ll be helpful to read the highlights if you’ve got some time. (You can also check out Karp’s visit to “The View” in which he demonstrates his technique.) There's also this video from Dr. Robert Hamilton, who demonstrates what he calls "The Hold" in the video below.
Whatever you do, try to hand the baby off to someone else, if only for half an hour, so you can get some rest — and some perspective. This too shall pass, and before you know it that screaming newborn in your hands won’t even fit in your hands anymore!