Crying and Colic: What You Need to Know

It’s your infant’s natural way to communicate, but you can lessen unnecessary tears.

Crying And Colic Close Up Baby Upset

Most newborns fuss and cry for about an hour and a half each day— typically because they’re tired, hungry, or under- or overstimulated. However, some infants cry for more than three hours a day and are much harder to soothe. Persistent crying has often been called colicky crying, although doctors have been moving away from using this term. It usually begins when a baby is 2 or 3 weeks old and hits its peak around 6 weeks. It often starts improving by 2 months and is gone by 3 or 4 months. Getting through the in-between period requires a shift in what you may assume your baby needs.

The word colic comes from ancient Greek, meaning colon. For thousands of years, people thought that babies were crying because they had intestinal pain. Of course, babies can have intestinal sensations, but there are several ways we know this type of crying doesn’t arise from pain. For example, going out for a car ride or turning on a hair dryer for white noise works to calm a lot of babies, but it wouldn’t do anything for pain. I believe that babies are born three months before they’re truly ready to interact with the world. I call this period the “fourth trimester.” That’s why the best way to soothe your baby is to help recreate the sensations she was accustomed to before birth. Inside the womb, there’s constant motion and sound—it’s louder than a vacuum cleaner 24/7. Your baby heard noise from the outside, like voices, as well as inside, like your heartbeat. She also felt a jiggling motion every time you walked. But when you bring your baby home, everybody says, “Tiptoe—the baby’s sleeping!” And you put her in a flat bed in a quiet room by herself, which is sensory-depriving for a baby who’s used to a rich environment of sensation. She can take it for only so long, and by the end of the day she loses it. That’s why people talk about the “witching hour.”

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