Colic is a word that is often used for a baby who cries for any length of time, but did you know that it’s normal for babies to have a fussy period every day, often called the witching hour? While it’s distressing for any parent to hear her baby cry, sometimes understanding that the behavior is a normal part of infant development can be helpful. However, there are times when the behavior may be caused by something else, and even though the cause isn’t always immediately understood, there are measures that can be taken to reduce the symptoms of colic.
Welcome back to our new series, I’ve Had My Baby - Now What? This is a guide with basic information to help you navigate the first days, weeks, and months of breastfeeding your new baby.
Today we’d like to talk about weeks 3 through 6 of your baby’s life, and what breastfeeding looks like. What can you expect for normal behavior from your new baby, and when do you know there’s a problem that you should seek professional help for?
We’ve all been there.
You’ve been home with your new baby for a few days/weeks. It’s 2am and you’re tired and overwhelmed. You’ve never felt such bone-aching exhaustion. All you want to do is crawl in bed and sleep uninterrupted. Just for a few hours…. even ONE hour. But your baby is crying and won’t stop. You’ve tried everything – a fresh diaper, breastfeeding, you’ve shushed, swaddled and swung to the point of fatigue. And the baby won’t stop crying. You’ve woken your partner, called your mom or sister and none of the advice is helping. You’re worried that you’re doing something wrong or that you’re doing nothing right, that something is wrong with your little one, that you’re not making enough milk. You’d try almost anything at this moment to soothe your baby’s distress.
It’s exactly this vulnerability that formula companies prey upon when they make commercials like the one below:
The commercial for Gerber claims that the specially-created formula is effective in calming ‘excessive crying and colic.’ Nothing is more upsetting to a mother than the sound of her baby crying – we are biologically designed to physiologically respond to our own children’s sounds of distress, to do whatever we can to stop the baby from crying. Gerber is just PRAYING that a frustrated and exhausted mother will see this commercial and think that this new formula the answer to her struggles. Some moms may decide to introduce the formula to an exclusively breastfed baby, initiating the slippery slope of decreased supply and increasing ‘need’ for supplementation - just what formula companies are hoping for.
What Gerber fails to mention in the commercial is that the probiotic they have included (L. reuteri) has been studied and shown to exist in breast milk. Or that breast milk also has all the calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates and vitamins that your baby needs – AS WELL as antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial factors specifically formulated to protect your baby. That breast milk contains all the probiotics AND prebiotics your baby may need. Or that human milk changes in composition as the baby grows, continually providing a unique superfood specific to YOUR baby.
Gerber also doesn’t explain to the new mom why her baby may be crying. The first three months of a baby’s life is often called the “fourth trimester” and should be treated as such. Just days ago, your baby was safely tucked in your womb, with constant warmth and soothing sounds and movements. Upon birth, the baby is thrust into his new environment, which is often cold and bright and always unfamiliar. Gerber doesn’t share the statistic that babies who are worn 3 or more hours a day cry 50% less than babies who aren’t. Gerber doesn’t remind the new mom that her 2-week old baby may be experiencing a growth spurtand the constant nursing and fussiness is a normal part of this, that the baby is doing all he needs to boost mom’s milk supply as he grows big and strong. Gerber doesn’t educate the mom on what she can add to or remove common allergenic or inflammatory foods (such as gluten, dairy, and soy) from her own diet to help soothe a colicky baby. (Check out our Boob Group podcast episode: GERD, Reflux and the Breastfed Baby for an explanation on symptoms, causes, and remedies for GERD, reflux, and colic.)
There are many reasons for a crying and colicky baby, and a number of solutions. One action that is never the answer is replacing any amount of breast milk with an artificial milk. Shame on Gerber for suggesting to an unsure and overwhelmed mother that her breast milk is lacking in something that could soothe her crying baby!
‘Help a Mama Out’ Topic of the Week: What are Your Best Tips for Surviving Your Baby’s Witching Hours?
Ashley: Wearing the baby during the evening hours. Prepping dinner earlier in the day so that I didn’t have to do it during my baby’s fussy time. Setting aside special activities for my then 3-year old that she could do on her own or with little help from me, just in case I needed to be sitting on the couch, constantly nursing the baby. Reminding myself that this was temporary and would pass!
Karen: Feeding a little at a time, more frequently. I read when #4 had HORRIBLE colic that there are some cultures where babies never experience colic. In all of these communities, babies are worn and are on and off the boob all day, so they eat small meals very frequently.
Kat: Support from my husband was really crucial during this time. I would nurse my son and concentrate on him while my husband got dinner ready. Holding and wearing baby helped the most. Also, fresh air worked wonders!
Lori: Babywearing…. I would also batch cook on the weekend when Daddy was home so that come dinner time, all I had to do was heat it up.
Catie: Remain calm…. Baby seemed to sense the angst and it only made things worse. Often baby and I both needed a breather. My husband was deployed when my son went through the worst of it so handing him off wasn’t an option. I would set him down in a swing or bouncy chair with a toy, walk to another room and take 30 seconds minimum to breathe, drink some water, etc. If baby was happy, I took a break away from him since we were obviously over-stimulating each other. Then, back to nursing, rocking, wearing, walking, etc…. until we could both get a good nap!
Janina: Babywearing, smaller feedings, burp a lot, white noise, gripe water at the first sign of crying, rocking, and time.
Christina: Wearing and then walking – close to mom, plus amazing fresh air and rhythmic movements. Sometimes getting into a warm bath with my daughter helped, too.
Shelly: Lowering my expectations. Fussy babies meant nothing was getting done except baby care. Going for a walk helped clear my head and the change of scenery almost always calmed them down.
Kathryn: Bouncing on the exercise ball and the vacuum was a lifesaver.
Grace: Adjusting my diet (cutting out gluten and dairy because those were his colic culprits). Make the day less chaotic by staying home or no visitors, low lights, soothing music. Skin to skin. Take a warm bath with baby on my chest. Baby massage with some coconut oil and lavender oil. Colic Calm if it lasts more than an hour.
Turath: Our baby’s witching hour turned out to be a dairy sensitivity, so after I cut out dairy we haven’t had any problems. Definitely babywearing! This article has lots of great tips…. It’s sleep related, but I think many of the tips will work for calming a fussy baby. http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/fussy-baby/31-ways-get-your-baby-sleep-and-stay-asleep
Rhianna: Try putting them to bed earlier. Once we instituted a 6pm bedtime, it was MUCH easier!
Kenyatta: Wear them! Familiarity (routine, music, lighting, smells) and calm.
Here are a few of my favorite articles: