Colic is a term doctors use for a baby that cries a lot more than the average baby when they can’t give you any other answers as to why. The official criteria they use are based on the “rules of three.” Meaning that the crying:

  • Lasts at least three hours at a stretch
  • Occurs at least three days a week
  • Persists for at least three weeks in a row

Colicky babies act like they are in pain, then completely normal at other times (like when you take them to the pediatrician). After having had three colicky boys of my own, I’d like to share some truths about colicky babies. One of the most helpful resources I have found has been the book “The Happiest Baby on The Block” by Harvey Karp M.D.

1 | It helps to keep them moving

Colicky babies love movement. I have found the stronger the movement the better (within reason). Rocking sweetly in a rocking chair or glider, peacefully gazing at my newborn has never really worked out for me. My colicky babies appreciated drives on dirt roads, stroller rides over gravel, and baby swings set on the fastest setting. They would often wake at red lights, while idling in a drive-thru line, or if I stopped moving the grocery cart for a moment to contemplate what purchase was best going to help me to keep my sanity.

2 | Feed them whatever they tolerate the best

Some colicky babies have sensitive tummies. Mine have had milk protein allergies and since I would rather not have to take out a second mortgage on our house in order to buy the formula made for babies with food allergies, I have always opted to breastfeed and cut out all milk products from my diet. Milk is in a surprising amount of foods. I adore cheese and chocolate so this can be rough.

I tend to replace it with carbs and candy (genius, I know). Some babies are sensitive to other foods in a mother’s diet, so you can always try eliminating a food to see if it has an effect–or trying a different formula. Other colicky babies may suffer from reflux. I’ve also noticed that colicky babies are gassy. Whether it’s from sensitive tummies or the excess air they swallow while crying, they can clear a room with the power and magnitude of their digestion.

This is why my husband greatly enjoys performing bicycle legs with our babies. This is where you move their legs in a bicycle motion and gently push their legs up towards their chests thus releasing the atomic booms. I live in a testosterone filled zoo so, of course, they find this hilarious.

3 | Oh, the noise, noise, noise, noise

I’m the Grinch of the house always griping about all the noise but colicky babies don’t like silence. I have found that they usually need some background noise to help them fall asleep. They are individuals, so their preferences vary. My first son was a fan of the vacuum, so we always had clean floors.  My second son loved the sound of the shower, so we would spend our time in the bathroom wasting water. My third son responded best to the hair dryer.

Find what works for you. There are also a variety of white noise machines you can buy that can help your baby sleep better at night. My sister swears by having an aquarium in the baby’s nursery. You don’t need the fish, just the aquarium to hum all night long. Also, for the babies who love to holler in the car, try changing the radio station to static It put my babies to sleep almost every time.

4 | A note on sleep

It doesn’t take long for any new parent to figure out sleep is critical. Something you never gave much thought to suddenly becomes an obsession. How much are you getting? How can you get more? My babies have always been like china dolls, eyes opening as soon as you recline them. Try as I might, I have never been able to get them to sleep flat on their backs in their cribs or bassinets as newborns.

After a few nights of no sleep, you get to the point where you realize it doesn’t really matter where they sleep as long as they sleep already! I admit I have had my babies sleep in swings, car seats, and bouncers. They like to be elevated and swaddled, and make the swaddle tight for safety reasons and because babies can be real Jedi masters at getting their little arms out and waking themselves up with a right hook to their face. You can blame the startle reflex for that.

5 | Get all the help you can and know it won’t last forever (Even when it feels that way)

Appreciate those brief, beautiful moments with your baby and ignore the people who tell you to cherish every second. Let’s be honest, no one is cherishing a scream-a-thon at three in the morning. Chances are you are crying right along with them. Most colic eases up or ends at three months so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s okay to put the baby down and take a break. Carve out some time for yourself, ask for help, and tune out those braggers who love to boast about what good babies they have. After all, parenting is a marathon, not a sprint.

Surviving a colicky baby is just that, surviving. Your house will be a mess, your meals will probably be microwavable, and you will want to spend any free moment catching up on sleep. You are a mom in the trenches, don’t be afraid to ask for help and remember to smell that sweet intoxicating baby head smell. It will help to keep you going until you reach that blessed three-month reprieve.

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