Babies That Go Waaah in the Night

My wife tells the story of how two of her nephews screamed non-stop for their whole first year of life.  Her sister and her husband were getting so crazy that she offered to watch the kids for a weekend so they could get a break.  My wife only half-believed that babies could cry that much but sure enough, the only time those babies didn’t cry all weekend was when they took a bottle, or were in the swing.  And in those days of wind-up swings, the spring only kept them rocking for twenty minutes before needing rewinding.  Thus at night no one got more than twenty minutes of sleep at a time!

All babies cry.  Occasionally a baby is brought to us in Emergency because the baby is crying too much and parents want to know why.  More importantly, they want it to stop.  They are ready to tear their hair out with frustration because they have been to their pediatrician several times, have tried several treatments, and baby still cries all night.  Often that means baby has colic.

Colic is a common baby problem- almost one-fifth of all babies have it.  These are babies who cry for more than 3 hours per day for more than 3 weeks, in the first 3 months of life.  Often they cry most in the evening.  That much crying can make parents crazy with worry and frustration, listening to the screaming and not being able to comfort baby.  Sometimes parents get so worked up that they are afraid they might hurt baby to stop the crying.

Pediatricians try some easy fixes early on.  They may advise that formula-fed babies change formulas, in case of milk intolerance.  They may give medicines for gastric reflux, if they think that heart burn from reflux is the reason for pain.  Sometimes these things work, but for colic they don’t. 

One of the most frustrating things about colic is that in this day and age of cancer cures and antibiotics and MRIs, science still is not sure what colic is or what to do about it.  It seems like a gas problem when babies cry and cramp up, pull up their legs, grunt, and pass gas.  However, anti-gas medicines don’t help much.  There is some research in intestinal bacteria and probiotic treatment, but this is very preliminary.  People try all sorts of alternative medicines like fennel tea, chiropractic manipulation, herbal medicines, but none of that seems to help much either.

Here is what we do know to help.  Breast feeding makes colic less common.  Swaddling baby in a blanket, rocking them, and pacifiers seems to help.  The ultimate way to calm a fussy baby is still a car ride in the car seat.  Swings and white-noise makers (like fans, clothes dryers, and purpose-made white noise makers) also often calm colicky babies. 

If baby is really driving you nuts and you think you might hurt baby- get help!  Get a neighbor or relative to watch baby for a while so you can calm down.  If you can’t do that, put baby in a safe place (baby bed, buckled into a car seat or swing) and get out of hearing range to calm down.  Letting baby cry won’t hurt them or give them a “complex.”  Heck, you haven’t been able to stop the crying anyway, so why not give yourself a break?  As my mom said, she had no baby-crying problem that wasn’t fixed by two closed doors between me and her.  And me and my brothers seemed to have turned out okay (but that is just our own opinion- others may differ). 

As always, call your pediatrician before going to Emergency for crying.  Most crying is not an emergency and your doctor can help you decide if it is.  Do you have a colic story or cure?  If so, send me a comment.  You might know something about colic that science doesn’t!

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