How to Care for Yourself When Your Baby Has Colic

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Having a baby with colic can be a challenging experience. Even though your baby's pediatrician has assured you that your baby is healthy, you may be fraught with anxiety and worry, not to mention the fact that you doubt your abilities as a parent when nothing you do seems to help.

If this feels familiar, it's important that you pay attention to your own needs as well as your baby's needs. Asking for help from friends and family and squeezing in some time for yourself will help you navigate this challenging postpartum experience.

With understanding and a commitment to self-care, you and your baby will get through it. In the meantime, here's everything you need to know about colic, including how you can care for your baby and for yourself.

What Is Colic?

The American Academy of Family Physicians defines colic as excessive crying, irritability, or fussiness in an otherwise healthy infant. Colicky periods often follow the "rule of three": They last for three or more hours per day, occur three or more days per week, and continue for three weeks or longer.

Overall, colic affects as many as 10% to 40% of all infants worldwide. Usually, colicky behavior peaks at 6 weeks of age and resolves by about 3 to 6 months of age.

Doctors do not know what causes colic and note that it occurs equally in breastfed babies and formula-fed babies. Fortunately, the prognosis for babies with colic is good, with 85% of babies moving out of the colicky period by 3 months of age.

While every colicky infant is different and what works for one will not work for another, medical professionals offer a number of different suggestions for helping to soothe your baby.

  • Swaddle your baby.
  • Wear your baby or hold them in an upright position.
  • Rock your baby or slowly walk around the house.
  • Play a white noise machine or try standing near a running faucet.
  • Go for a drive with your baby (unless the crying causes you to become distracted).
  • Place a warm towel on your baby's tummy.
  • Allow your baby to have some tummy time while they are awake and rub their back.
  • Sing or hum to your baby or play soothing music.
  • See if your baby is interested in a pacifier.

How Colic Impacts Parents

Although colic is considered a benign condition that occurs in otherwise healthy babies, it can take a considerable toll on parents and families. From feelings of anxiety and distress to frustration and even anger, parents of colicky babies often feel a broad range of emotions.

These feelings then impact their overall mental health and can cause tensions in relationships with partners, especially if one parent feels like they must shoulder much of the burden of caring for the colicky baby.

Research has shown that mothers whose babies had colic demonstrated multidimensional psychological distress. For instance, they reported more bodily dysfunction, fears, disordered thinking, depression, anxiety, fatigue, hostility, and impulsive thoughts and actions. They also had stronger feelings of personal inadequacy and inferiority when it came to parenting.

One study found that colic has the ability to overshadow everything else in a family's life. Both parents felt powerless and frustrated and spent hours searching desperately for creative ways to soothe their baby's constant crying.

Aside from the emotional impact, having a baby with colic has also been linked to maternal depression, breastfeeding cessation, and even a significant risk for shaken baby syndrome. For this reason, parents need to find ways to care for themselves while also caring for their infants. Expecting to power through the crying day after day without ever tending to your own needs is a recipe for disaster.

It's important that you take it slow and care for your infant with calm and compassion but also carve out time for yourself too. This may mean reducing the number of responsibilities or expectations you put on yourself and just focusing your efforts on caring for your baby and for yourself.

After all, the colicky period usually only lasts for about three to four months. So the housework and other minor responsibilities can take a backseat to what is really important—your mental health and your baby's well-being.

And, if you are feeling significantly overwhelmed or have symptoms of postpartum depression, talk with a doctor and get help right away if you are having thoughts of hurting your baby, yourself, or someone else. Getting the help you need can help you navigate this challenging period in your and your baby's life.

Tips for Caring for Yourself

Caring for a baby that has colic can be physically and emotionally exhausting, especially because most parents spend hours trying to comfort their baby to no avail. When this happens day after day, it can start to weigh on you, which means you need to be very intentional about taking care of yourself. Doing so will benefit both you and your baby.

Refrain From Blame

Many new parents blame themselves if their baby is crying and nothing they do seems to alleviate the issue. They doubt their abilities as a parent and wonder if they are doing something wrong.

But when it comes to colic, no one is to blame. Even doctors don't know exactly what causes colic, nor do they have any solid information on what might alleviate the issue.

While the days may seem endless, this rough period will eventually pass. Until then, it may help to remind yourself of these facts. It may even help to repeat: "I am not to blame," "I am doing everything I can," or "This will not last forever."

Anticipate Difficult Times

If your baby has colic, it's likely that they will develop a pattern to their colicky episodes. Most babies with colic tend to cry in the late afternoon or early evening, although the timing will vary from baby to baby. Once you have identified when these episodes occur, schedule a family member, friend, or neighbor to come over at those times, if that's available to you.

Having someone there to support you and share in the caregiving responsibilities will make the situation easier to manage. Even if your partner is able to be there too, it can help to have another person on hand. Plus, you're more likely to stay calm and manage your emotions more effectively when you have help and support.

Take a Break

The cries from a colicky baby are often high-pitched and shrill, which can evoke a number of emotional responses in new parents including everything from anger and frustration to sadness and anxiety. You need to be aware of when your feelings are escalating so that you can take a break before you do something impulsive.

Research indicates that colic is one of the strongest risk factors for shaken baby syndrome. While no parent can imagine themselves doing something like this, sometimes emotions can lead to impulsive behaviors.

For this reason, it's important that you regularly take breaks during your baby's crying episodes. Those breaks will be better for both you and your baby, especially if you're feeling particularly emotional.

Place your baby in a safe place like their crib and take a few minutes to yourself. Go in the bathroom and splash water on your face or try sitting in another room until you're calm. Once you have regained your composure, resume your efforts to comfort your baby.

Get Plenty of Rest

Having a colicky baby is exhausting, especially if the crying happens every day for hours at a time. Let housework go or hire someone to help you if you can. You will be much more equipped to navigate your baby's colicky periods if you have had some rest.

If you have other children to care for, see if you can get friends or neighbors to help out from time to time so that you can nap when your baby naps. And don't feel guilty about sleeping. After all, you are still recovering from giving birth and trying to console a fussy baby. That's a lot of work for one person and rest is one of the best ways to heal your mind and your body.

Change the Scenery

If you spend day after day in the house following the same routines with your baby, the monotony can start to weigh on you emotionally, especially when several hours a day are clouded by your baby's crying. Try changing things up a bit.

During the times when you anticipate that your baby will be calm or even cheerful, get out of the house. Take the baby for a drive or grab the stroller and go window shopping. Doing something different will help clear your mind and make you feel less like you're stuck in the house with a crying infant day after day. You also may feel more refreshed and ready to handle your baby's crying jags with compassion and empathy.

Get Moving

There's nothing better for improving mood than getting your body moving. Whether you do a baby and me exercise video or you go for a walk around the neighborhood, exercise in almost any form helps your boost mood and clear your mind. Plus, the movement may distract or even calm your baby.

As long as your doctor has cleared you to exercise, put on some comfortable clothes and get moving. You may find that it's just what you need. If your doctor has not given you the green light for exercising just yet, then try taking a slow walk around the neighborhood to help get the blood flowing.

Pamper Yourself

Caring for your baby during their colicky periods day after day can wear on you. So, it's natural to need a break. While your partner, a family member, or a friend is with the baby, take some much needed time to yourself. Get a massage, a pedicure, or simply take a leisurely bath.

These types of activities help you feel relaxed and improve your mood. They also can make your feel refreshed and restored—something you need to ride out your baby's colicky periods. You also may want to find regular ways to pamper yourself throughout the day, and particularly after your baby's crying ends.

Indulge in some much-needed me time by reading a good book, chatting with a friend, or relaxing on the couch. The key is to recognize how draining it can be to care for a colicky baby and to counteract the challenging experiences with something positive. Doing so will help keep you from dwelling on the negative experience of your baby's colic and help you focus more on the good things in your life.

Try Mindfulness

Some parents find that it helps to be mindful or to practice meditation while their baby is having a colicky spell. It helps to clear their mind and feel more calm. Plus, focused deep breathing can help center your mind and control your emotions.

Try sitting in a rocking chair and humming or playing relaxing music while you rock your baby. You may find that this calms your little one too. Or, you can try swaddling them or wearing them while you engage in mindfulness.

The key is that you are trying to calm your mind and reduce any frantic efforts to get your baby to stop crying. Instead, you will move slower and with more purpose. Even if your baby doesn't stop crying or isn't comforted by the exercise, it may help you remain calm while they are crying.

A Word From Verywell

Having a baby with colic can be overwhelming, causing you to feel a wide range of emotions. From anger and frustration to anxiety and fear, you likely feel a plethora of different things possibly all within a span of a few hours.

There is no doubt that caring for a colicky infant puts a strain on you emotionally and physically. For this reason, you need to be very intentional about taking care of yourself. Doing so will benefit both you and your baby.

Don't feel guilty about taking some time to be alone or doing something that makes you feel renewed. It's normal to want and need a break. You are still a good parent. In fact, taking care of yourself along with meeting your baby's needs demonstrates that you know the importance of balancing good self-care with infant care.

And rest assured, this period of non-stop crying is just a season in your life. In several months, your baby will be giggling and babbling more than they are shedding tears.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Mount Sinai. Colic and crying—self-care.

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By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.