Does My Baby Have Colic?

By Dr. Harvey Karp


By standard definition, a baby who cries for more than 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, and consistently for longer than 3 weeks (and is otherwise healthy) is considered to have colic.

MY INTERPRETATION OF THE POSITION OF NEW PARENTS:  For new parents experiencing constant crying, the stress level goes through the roof.  Your heart breaks for your baby.  You feel like a failure as a parent.  You want answers on how to end the perpetual crying!  Here is an article on ideas to deal with colic.  If your baby indeed has colic your pediatrician or midwife can help.  First diagnose any other potential problems.  Then try the 5 s’s mentioned in this article.  If you have suggestions please send them so others may learn!!!  JUDY

Infant crying is a fact of life. It’s the only way our newborns can communicate their needs to us. Fortunately, most of the time even a baby’s most passionate shrieks just mean he’s hungry, wet, soiled or lonely, and he will quiet once you give him what he needs.

But what if your cute little guy keeps blasting even though he’s been fed, has a dry diaper and is being cuddled in your arms? What happens if you feel like you’ve tried everything and the screaming doesn’t stop? That’s when parents start to wonder if their baby may in fact have mysterious condition called colic, or persistent crying.

Studies show that colic affects from 10-15% of all babies (and about 50% of crying infants fuss for over 1 hour a day). While certain aspects of colic, from cause to cure, aren’t understood, here’s what we do know:

  • Infants with colic usually begin displaying symptoms approx. 2 weeks after birth.
  • After the first 3 or 4 months of life, colic generally goes away.
  • Gender and feeding style (bottle vs. breast) do not increase a baby’s chances of presenting with colic.
  • The presence of colic in a baby does not indicate that the child will be less intelligent or less healthy than a baby without colic.

Common Misinformation About Colic

For most scientific researchers, colic has been a rather confounding subject. Many factors may lead to the irritation that comes with colic, but no specific “cause” has been identified.

Some often-cited (though incorrect) causes of colic are: lactose intolerance (and the digestive trouble that ensues), gas, overstimulation and heartburn.

Another theory about colic is that it is caused by a baby sensing her parents’ anxiety. That is also completely false. Babies aren’t little psychologists! They can’t tell if a parent is anxious, irritated or fearful. In fact, if colic were caused by anxiety, premature babies should have a high level of colic, because their parents are usually extra-stressed. But, premature babies have no more colic than full-term babies.

My Theory About Colic

I believe the key to understanding colic is that that our babies are born 3 months before they’re really ready for the world. And because of that, they are over-stimulated on the one hand and terribly under-stimulated on the other (the latter being the much bigger problem). Life in the womb is one of non-stop sensation. Your baby is held, touched and jiggled, and hears the loud pulsing of blood flow 24/7. Putting a new baby in a dark, quiet bedroom by themselves is actually sensory-depriving. Some kids can tolerate that, and others just…fall apart!

What I’ve come to learn is that imitating the sensations of the womb doesn’t just reassure babies it literally flips a switch—a virtual calming reflex that all babies have at birth.

Calming Colic

I developed a method called the “5 S’s” —swaddling, shushing, swaying, side/stomach position and sucking— to turn on an infant’s calming reflex. When done correctly, colicky crying calms in minutes, or less. Approximately 95% of the time the “5 S’s” fail, it is because they are not done exactly right. Parent can easily master the technique by viewing The Happiest Baby on the Block DVD / streaming video. There’s also Happiest Baby’s SNOO smart sleeper, an innovative baby bed built with smart technology based on the 5 S’s. It can help calm the even the fussiest colicky baby and stretch his sleep longer.

More on the Mystery

Kids with colic are usually totally healthy. However, if crying persists in spite of the 5 S’s, it’s very important to have your doctor check if illness triggering the colic. Especially if the infant crying is associated with other symptoms like poor weight gain, fever, etc.

The most common medical problems associated with colic are milk protein allergy and various types of infections (urine, ear, etc.). One of the most frequently-diagnosed problems said to cause colic is acid reflux (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease). However, mounting evidence indicates that GERD is hugely over-diagnosed. A baby with colic who is growing well and vomits fewer than 5 times a day rarely, if ever, has GERD.

It’s important to consult your doctor before giving ANY sort of medicine to your baby. For example, gas drops made of simethicone, have been shown to be no more effective than water to improve a baby’s colic.

Advice to Parents of Colicky Babies

If you’ve reached your emotional limit and the “5 S’S” are not helping your baby’s colic, lay him down in on the floor or in a safe baby bed and call a friend or a relative to come help you.

It’s normal to feel at wit’s end when a baby cries for hours, but you never want to allow your frustration or anyone else’s to lead to shaken baby syndrome. And finally, if you have a colicky baby, never blame yourself for his cries. Colic may be a mystery, but be confident the cause is not you.

To Pacify or Not to Pacify…That is the Question

The debate regarding the use of pacifiers goes on.   As always, there are great professionals on each side of the debate.  How is one to decide?

My failsafe is: talk with mom’s you know and respect.  What do they think?  How did they work this out with their babies?

I remember a friend in high school whose thumb was permanently misshapen due to her years of thumb sucking!  Yuck!  At that point she was sixteen years old and one of her thumbs was visibly shorter and rounder than the other.  Even as a teenager I wondered how on earth her parents could let that happen.

Dentists say longterm thumb sucking can damage your child’s teeth!  Once a little one has taken to the thumb it is nearly impossible to help them stop.  This was the deciding factor in my mind.  A pacifier can eventually be removed.  Their thumbs are permanent!!!

As I work with new families this question nearly always comes up.  Advice comes in from every corner and it is usually conflicting.  Now even the SIDS advisors are weighing in.  Current research regarding SIDS indicates that the use of pacifiers diminish it’s occurrence.

HOWEVER, AS A DOULA I RECOMMEND PACIFIERS FOR BETTER SLEEP FOR ALL!!!!!  As a doula I come into the homes of new families and serve them in helping them come off the adrenalin of their time in the hospital.  If they deliver at a hospital they have enjoyed several shifts of nurses, aids, lab techs, and more.  Each of these individuals has shared their thoughts about baby.  Mom and dad are on overload!  When they come home my goal is to help them relax, rest up, and find their own cadence of parenthood.  I share from my experience and training with the purpose of helping them find confidence and comfort in their own abilities as parents.

I care for the baby, bring baby in to be breast or bottle few with mom, and change and stay with baby.  One of my most important goals is to help mom and dad establish their “New Normal” as a family.

MAM Newborn Pacifiers are my pacifier of choice for newbies. (link directly below)  They are small, have no external loops or handles and are easy for a very new baby to use.   They can be purchased over the counter at outlets like Target or Walmart, come in packages of two, and are expensive.     JUDY







Ted Talks: 12 Videos on Pregnancy and Parenthood

The tagline for the overall theme of any TED Talk is “Ideas worth spreading.” Many of you may be already familiar with TED and TED Talks. TED is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 1984 that is committed to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). The first TED Talks were at a conference designed to cover the topics of Technology, Entertainment, and Design but now encompasses a vast collection of topics from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. On the local level, independently run TEDx events help share ideas locally in communities around the world.

I recently became aware of twelve Ted Talks entries benefiting pregnant moms and parents.  You will find them below.  Look through the list and view those that are of particular interest to you.  Have fun!  Please let me know which you enjoy most!!



Playlist (12 talks): Talks for when you’re expecting a child

  • 17:03

    Now playing
    The new breed of high-tech self-monitors (measuring heartrate, sleep, steps per day) might seem targeted at competitive athletes. But Talithia Williams, a statistician, makes a compelling case that all of us should be measuring and recording simple data about our bodies every day — because our own data can reveal much more than even our doctors may know.
  • 14:56

    “When we tell women that sex isn’t worth the risk during pregnancy, what we’re telling her is that her sexual pleasure doesn’t matter … that she in fact doesn’t matter,” says sex researcher Sofia Jawed-Wessel. In this eye-opening talk, Jawed-Wessel mines our views about pregnancy and pleasure to lay bare the relationship between women, sex and systems of power.
  • 16:46

    Pop quiz: When does learning begin? Answer: Before we are born. Science writer Annie Murphy Paul talks through new research that shows how much we learn in the womb — from the lilt of our native language to our soon-to-be-favorite foods.
  • 9:37

    Image-maker Alexander Tsiaras shares a powerful medical visualization, showing human development from conception to birth and beyond. (Some graphic images.)
  • 12:26

    How do we define a parent — or a family? Bioethicist Veerle Provoost explores these questions in the context of non-traditional families, ones brought together by adoption, second marriages, surrogate mothers and sperm donations. In this talk, she shares stories of how parents and children create their own family narratives.
  • 6:17

    Roberto D’Angelo and Francesca Fedeli thought their baby boy Mario was healthy — until at 10 days old, they discovered he’d had a perinatal stroke. With Mario unable to control the left side of his body, they grappled with tough questions: Would he be “normal?” Could he live a full life? The poignant story of parents facing their fears — and how they turned them around.
  • 18:29

    “Babies and young children are like the R&D division of the human species,” says psychologist Alison Gopnik. Her research explores the sophisticated intelligence-gathering and decision-making that babies are really doing when they play.
  • 14:16

    By loading kids with high expectations and micromanaging their lives at every turn, parents aren’t actually helping. At least, that’s how Julie Lythcott-Haims sees it. With passion and wry humor, the former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford makes the case for parents to stop defining their children’s success via grades and test scores. Instead, she says, they should focus on providing the oldest idea of all: unconditional love.
  • 10:17

    Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another — by listening to the humans around them and “taking statistics” on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world.
  • 20:18

    How do babies learn so much from so little so quickly? In a fun, experiment-filled talk, cognitive scientist Laura Schulz shows how our young ones make decisions with a surprisingly strong sense of logic, well before they can talk.
  • 12:25

    Racism is making people sick — especially black women and babies, says Miriam Zoila Pérez. The doula turned journalist explores the relationship between race, class and illness and tells us about a radically compassionate prenatal care program that can buffer pregnant women from the stress that people of color face every day.
  • 4:46

    In the developing world, access to incubators is limited by cost and distance, and millions of premature babies die each year. TED Fellow Jane Chen shows an invention that could keep millions of these infants warm — a design that’s safe, portable, low-cost and life-saving.

Planning For Baby’s Arrival

Think about your life…..  When things are changing it affects everything.  For example, you start a new job.  Most often normalcy is put on hold for a while as you acclimate to the new demands.  You might be more touchy, tired, impatient, etc.  Your sleep will be affected.  Your schedule changes.  Maybe the drive to work is longer and requires you leave earlier, adjusting when you wake up, eat breakfast, get out the door.  It is wise not to incorporate many such changes at the same time due to the tole on you and your family.  If you are living through a remodel, starting a new job, and having a baby all at the same time you are off the charts on the stress consideration.  PLEASE RECONSIDER!!!!!

In life there are things that just happen, events over which we do not have control.  You can not do much about planning these.  However, if you are having a baby this year, please reconsider the other issues.  Wait to leave your current job until your family and baby are acclimated.  Let the remodel happen next year.  You will enjoy the process more.  Do what ever you can to keep life simple.  You never know what will be thrown at you that you are not planning for… control what you can.

I recently worked with a family who purchased a new home at the same time they were pregnant.  They were doing a major remodel that took longer than expected.  They were not able to move into their home prior to baby’s birth.  Baby was born via Cesarean Section.  Mom came home from the hospital to a home that was not her own.  She had no opportunity to nest and make it hers, dad had to move their belongings in while she was in the hospital.  She was recovering from pregnancy and major surgery, learning how to be a mom, breastfeeding, and healing, all in someone else’s home.  She had a difficult recuperation.  My heart broke for her.  There were too many major changes going on at this vulnerable and precious time.

As you plan for your baby, let this be the focus of your year.   Leave other major changes for later.  If you have other children this is even more important.  Little ones may not understand that a new baby is coming, but they are certainly aware that things are changing.  Even pets are very aware of this.  Allow for lots of relaxed time together before baby comes.  Develop some calming and soothing activities for your family.  Once baby is here use your recuperation time as time to be together as a family, enjoying these planned tranquil moments.   I know this sounds idyllic, but you will be amazed at how it improves your adjustment period.