Crying is a common concern for parents of infants. Newborns have just one highly effective way of getting someone’s attention, and that is to cry. Whether it’s due to hunger, being wet or soiled, being lonely, or being uncomfortable, you can count on your newborn to cry to let you know about it.
A common concern comes in the form of: “How much crying is normal?” or “Does my baby have colic?”
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We All Know Babies Cry
Crying is especially common during the first three months of life. While, over time, parents and close contacts can grow to distinguish what cries have what meaning, sometimes crying just does not stop.
All parents have been there. They’ve fed their baby, changed them, held them, but the crying persists. When is it too much?
It is generally accepted that the average baby will cry for up to two to three hours a day. This sounds like a long time, and it feels even longer when you are at home with your brand-new bundle of joy who will not stop crying.
This can cause worry in parents, and it can sometimes be difficult to determine if something is seriously wrong. At the end of this article is a list of topics on our website that are helpful in this regard.
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Colic as a Cause of Crying
Sometimes, when we have determined that the baby is fed, changed, and safe, crying may persist. This, when not caused by an illness or injury, can be termed “colic.” Colic, as many parents know, can be one of the most distressing problems in infancy for both parents and infants.
From a medical standpoint, colic is defined as an infant crying for more than three hours a day on more than three days a week. This typically happens in the first three months of life and typically does not persist much later into infancy.
Distinguishing colic from other causes can be tricky as it is not a well-understood phenomenon, despite it being well known. Generally, we think of colic as defined by the following:
- Crying that is different in quality from an infant’s usual cry – usually higher in pitch – and may sound as if the infant is in pain or screaming
- Crying that is episodic – having a clear start and end, often coming out of the blue, and often occurring in the evening
- Physical characteristics of tenseness, a full/distended belly, drawing up the legs, arching the back, and/or clenching hands into fists
- Universally, colic is difficult to console, despite comforting measures
So What Can We Do?
Determining colic as the cause of crying is best done by a physician. Your doctor can gather information from you and examine your infant to make sure that there is not another cause for their crying. There is no diagnostic test to determine whether or not a child has colic and, unless there is a concern for some other serious cause of crying, labs and imaging are generally not needed.
Once the diagnosis is reached, there are things parents can do to try and ease colic.
It is universally accepted that episodes of colic should first be approached by ensuring that the infant is warm, clean, fed, and safe. If these are all true and the infant still cries, start with the 4 S’s of soothing an infant:
- Swaddle – wrap your infant in a blanket
- Shush – make calm hushing sounds
- Sway/Swing – Rock your swaddled infant gently side to side
- Suck – provide a pacifier, bottle nipple, bottle, or breast for the infant to suck on
In combination, these efforts can potentially break an episode of colic.
However, they may not, and the crying may persist. This can cause even the most patient parents to be distressed and overwrought. Should this be the case, and you have made sure that your child is safe, clean, warm, and not hungry, you can simply put them down in a their cradle or bassinet and take a break. Call a friend to help watch the baby while you take a breather or sit for a few minutes in a quiet place to cool off.
It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, and it is ok to recruit help. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to your primary care provider, who can help you through the stress of caring for an infant with colic. And please consult your primary care provider before starting over-the-counter colic remedies.
About UPMC Harrisburg
UPMC Harrisburg is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Harrisburg includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.