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Ask the Expert: How Can I Soothe My Colicky Baby?

Does your baby have long bouts of unexplained crying, extreme fussiness, or exhibit other signs of colic? Alison Bevan, certified Gentle Sleep Coach and Happiest Baby Educator, shares her own tips, as well as Dr. Harvey Karp's tip to soothe a colicky baby.

mother soothing crying babyMy infant is extremely fussy, has long bouts of unexplained crying, and is exhibiting other colicky behaviors, what can I do to soothe him?

I always recommend parents check with their pediatrician to rule out any underlying medical conditions or feeding issues that may be contributing to their child’s extreme fussiness. Parents should trust their instincts and find a pediatrician with empathy and an open mind. Although the percentage of affected infants appears to be small, Gastroesophageal reflux disease, milk protein allergy, oversupply, and overfeeding can definitely be the culprit in some cases. It’s important to find a pediatrician who’s willing to explore options and not dismiss parental concerns. For nursing mothers, a certified lactation consultant can be a great resource to help determine if there are feeding issues contributing to their infant’s behavior.

Accumulated stress has also been shown to trigger long bouts of unexplained crying. By 6 weeks of age, babies are too old to habituate but don’t yet know how to self-soothe, and the result can be intense crying from overstimulation. If parents aren’t doing so already, they should shut down their baby’s world by 6:00 or 6:30pm—most infants are exhausted by early evening and will benefit from being put down to sleep for the night earlier rather than later. I’ve seen nightly meltdowns disappear quickly when parents set a flexible but earlier bedtime and respect their infant’s need for sleep.

The opposite can also be true—some parents report that being under-stimulated appears to contribute to colicky behavior. Although most infants’ wakeful periods during the day are usually only two hours or less, parents should use that time to feed and offer gentle, stimulating activity. Walks, tummy time, baby massage and face-to-face time can all lead to less fussing and crying late in the day.

Motion, swaddling, pacifiers, white noise, and different holds can also help reduce crying. Many of my clients have had great success with Harvey Karp’s Cuddle Cure for settling fussy babies—an approach that incorporates all of these basic comforting techniques. Karp believes that re-creating the sensations of the womb by combining “the 5 S’s”  (swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging/jiggling, and sucking) triggers what he calls a baby’s “calming reflex”. I’ve seen it bring many infants quickly to a state of calm. Parents can read Karp’s book or seek out a Happiest Baby Educator in their area to show them how to do the 5 S’s. Even babies who only have only occasional bouts of unexplained crying can benefit from his technique.

Although it’s incredibly stressful, parents can take some comfort in the fact that colic passes. It’s also very important to stress to them that being unable to sooth their infant is NOT a reflection on their ability to parent. I urge parents of colicky infants to seek support from others that have lived through it, and to know that it’s okay to take a break—having a grandparent, baby sitter, or friend take over occasionally can really make a difference in how they cope during this temporary but trying period.

Alison Bevan, a Fairfield County resident who struggled to get her own child to fall and stay asleep, is a certified Gentle Sleep Coach and Happiest Baby Educator. She currently owns and operates Sleepytime Coach, LLC in Norwalk, CT, and serves as pediatric sleep consultant at The Center for Advanced Pediatrics in Ridgefield, CT. 


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