10 Ways You're Treating Your Baby's Colic All Wrong

Jacqueline Burt Cote | Mar 1, 2017 Baby
10 Ways You're Treating Your Baby's Colic All Wrong
Image: iStock.com/kizilkayaphotos

mother holding crying baby

An estimated 10 to 40 percent of babies worldwide suffer from the mysterious and unbelievably challenging condition known as colic, which is when babies inexplicably cry for hours at a time on a daily basis. If you're the parent of one of these babies, you've probably looked everywhere for answers on how to help your child -- but since experts aren't sure what causes colic, you've also probably found a lot of conflicting and misleading information. 

We asked Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, FAAP, pediatrician and chief of digital innovation at Seattle Children's Hospital, what some of the most common misconceptions surrounding colic are, and what parents really need to know. Here are some of the mistakes you might make based on widespread colic myths.

Baby with colic crying

  • Mistake #1: Assuming your fussy baby must have colic

    fussy baby

    "Sometimes families may confuse normal crying for colic," Dr. Swanson told CafeMom. "Crying and fussiness is often a part of early infancy." Crying is usually normal, she added, and the amount of crying varies widely from baby to baby: Some might cry for less than half an hour a day while others cry for hours daily, and both can be considered perfectly normal. Symptoms of colic include "predictable" crying episodes (crying that happens around the same time every day for the same length of time) and inconsolable crying.

  • Mistake #2: Not telling baby's doctor you're concerned about colic

    doctor with baby

    If you're afraid that your complaints will be met with an eye roll at the pediatrician's office, don't be. That might happen -- but you should bring it up anyway. "Not all pediatricians believe in the diagnosis of colic," admitted Dr. Swanson. "But all pediatricians know the challenges of a high-crying baby. It's always the right thing to do to go in and get support and reassurance and advice if you worry something is wrong with your baby who cries a lot." Remember, you're the parent -- and you know your child best. If something seems wrong, it likely is.

  • Mistake #3: Not exploring the possibility of a food allergy or intolerance

    mother breastfeeding baby

    While, as stated above, no one really knows what causes colic, there has been some evidence linking the condition to food sensitivities -- particularly an intolerance to cow's milk protein. In one study, 66 mothers of breastfed infants with infantile colic were put on a diet free of cow's milk; the colic disappeared in 35 infants. So while eliminating dairy from your diet (or switching your baby's formula) isn't a guarantee that the colic will go away, it might be worth a shot. Talk to the pediatrician for more information on how to do this.

    More from CafeMom: 19 Most Surprising Things About Having a Baby (No One Warned Us!)

  • Mistake #4: Counting on an unproven treatment to work

    baby getting foot massage

    If your baby has colic, you're probably ready to grasp at just about any straw that promises to make it go away -- but most colic treatments haven't been proven to work.

    In 2011, Pediatrics journal evaluated 15 studies involving nearly 1,000 babies to analyze measures like herbal supplements, massage, probiotics, chiropractors' manipulation, and other methods. Unfortunately, said Dr. Swanson, the results showed that these interventions did not help babies with colic. (They didn't generally hurt, either, but you might want to save yourself the time and effort.)

  • Mistake #5: Assuming all natural remedies are safe for baby

    baby getting medicine

    If it's over-the-counter and "all-natural," it must be safe, right? Not necessarily. "Don't confuse the word 'natural' with 'harmless' or 'safe,'" said Dr. Swanson. "Natural doesn't confer safety." For example, one recent FDA analysis showed that Hyland's, a popular brand of homeopathic teething tablets, contained toxic levels of belladonna, which can cause seizures. This "natural" product was recalled and is no longer sold. Check all remedies with the pediatrician before trying them.

  • Mistake #6: Believing your crying baby needs constant intervention

    stressed mother with baby

    Pacing the floor while holding your baby for hours at a time might not help the shrieking, and it probably won't do you much good, either. Sometimes colic simply can't be helped.

    "If crying goes on a long time and a parent or caregiver is frustrated, it's okay to walk away," said Dr. Swanson. Put the baby in the crib, step out of the room for a few moments, and collect yourself. Not only will your child be fine, but you'll also have more energy to deal with his cries after you've had a break.

    More from CafeMom: 13 Too-Real Tweets About Teething (Because It's Laugh ... or Cry!)

  • Mistake #7: Shutting yourself and baby in the nursery

    baby sleeping in stroller

    You might think it's best to try to calm your little one down in the comfort of his nursery, where it's dark and quiet. But the truth is you might have better luck changing location. Babies sometimes stop crying while outside the home, taking a stroller ride or a car ride, said Dr. Swanson. Even moving to the bathroom or kitchen and running a faucet for white noise could do the trick.

  • Mistake #8: Blaming yourself for baby's colic

    stressed mother and baby on floor

    It's hard not to blame yourself when it seems like your baby is suffering, but parental error is not considered to be a cause of colic in general. Remember that this is a common and normal (if difficult!) part of infancy. "We live in culture that loves quiet babies," said Dr. Swanson, "So when parents have a high crier they understandably worry. And parents also sometimes feel judged that they aren't doing enough when they have a high crier. All of those forces can make parents miserable." Take a step back and remind yourself this is temporary. Around 3 months old, most babies will have grown out of having colic.

  • Mistake #9: Fearing that you'll 'spoil' your baby

    mother at baby's crib

    It seems fewer and fewer parents are buying into the old wives' tale that you can spoil your baby. But some people still worry that all that constant bouncing and shushing will make their baby needy for life. Happily, this is completely untrue, said Dr. Swanson: "You can never spoil an infant!" Consistent love, nurturing, and comfort will only serve to strengthen your bond and baby's confidence.

    More from CafeMom: 8 Thoughts Every Mom Has When Bringing Baby Home From the Hospital

  • Mistake #10: Feeding baby solids too early

    feeding baby solid food

    Contrary to some grandmas' advice, feeding your baby solid foods won't help to cut down on colicky episodes. In fact, starting on cereal too early might make things worse. According to a 2013 study by the CDC, many parents introduce solids to their babies too early, a mistake which can lead to an increased risk of diabetes, celiac disease, obesity, and eczema.

colic & crying newborns baby health

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