Hi there, I’m Dr Golly. I am privileged to be involved in the delivery of newborns almost every day in my job, and – I’ve had the incredible honour of witnessing the births of my own 3 children. The birth of a baby is at once miraculous, heart-warming and fulfilling – but it’s also terrifying! Especially if your newborn bundle of joy experiences unsettled behaviour in the first weeks of life. Today I’m going to focus on unsettled babies and I’ll show you some tips and tricks to get everyone in the family some more hours of sleep!
Colic is a form of pain that typically comes and goes quite abruptly. When babies are particularly unsettled – we refer to this as infantile colic. It comes from the Late Latin term colicus – pertaining to the colon. But it is normal for babies to cry – so how much is too much? Let’s jump to the whiteboard and take a look at normal baby crying and what happens in the case of infantile colic.
All babies cry in the first months of life, and it’s normal for most babies to cry for up to 2 hours per day. This crying tends to peak at 8 weeks and settle down by 12 weeks. Colic is defined by Wessel’s criteria, with episodes lasting for more than 3 hours per day, on more than 3 days of the week, for a period of 3 weeks or more. But anyone with a newborn will tell you that there’s no way you’d wait 3 weeks to ask for help!
So we tend to look for causes of unsettled behaviour in any baby that is healthy & well fed – with no other apparent cause for their crying.
The causes of colic are mostly broken down into 2 categories: physical and emotional.
Some common causes for physical pain include: trapped wind, under/over-feeding, intolerance to cow milk protein, lactose intolerance and an immature gut. Some of the emotional causes can be due to a baby’s temperament, over-stimulation or parental stress.
We often find signs or other symptoms that may suggest a cause for their crying, and all of these possible causes will be analysed by your GP or paediatrician, with a thorough history and examination.
Remember that babies may also cry if they are unwell and it’s important to have them seen by a doctor if you have any concerns regarding their health or behaviour.
Young babies never cry to try manipulate their parents. If there is excessive crying, there’s usually a good reason for it. So what can you do as a parent, if your child is unsettled? Parents and caregivers should first start by looking for manageable causes of crying.
- Hunger is common and newborns have a particularly chaotic feeding routine, especially during growth spurts.
- Next, ensure your baby is comfortable – this means checking that there’s nothing scratching or irritating them from clothing, they’re not too hot or too cold, there’s no hair or clothing thread that has become wrapped around a toe or finger and that they’re healthy, without any injury or infection.
- Next, consider a breastfeeding mother’s diet or the type of formula being used. Too much dairy in a mother’s diet can pass through the breastmilk and overwhelm a young stomach and certain breastfeeding habits can change the amount of lactose the baby gets with every feed. In this setting, the crying usually comes with mucus or blood in the bowel movements and the skin can often become dry or red. These should definitely be discussed with your child’s doctor.
- Lastly, ensure your baby is not over-tired or over-stimulated. This is very common and often happens from too much awake time, too much play or excessive handling. Let’s jump to the white-board again and try tease out some tired signs.
A 6-week old will usually become tired after being awake for more than 90 minutes at a time. Some signs of tiredness include: jerky movements of the arms and legs, frowning of the face, grizzling and crying. Often these are misinterpreted as hunger signs and they may eat if offered milk, but this is more about comfort than true hunger.
If you start to notice some tired signs; change their diaper to a fresh one, swaddle your baby’s arms, wrap them nice and warm, try get some burps out and put them in their cot or bassinet to sleep.
Remember not to worry about a strict routine in the first 6 weeks of a baby’s life. All babies cry and display unsettled behaviours at different times during the day and night. But if you think that the crying is excessive, there’s lots of help around. Maternal nurses, lactation consultants, GPs and paediatricians are here to try find the cause of their colic – and make changes to ensure that your baby – and you – get some well earned sleep!
Thanks for watching – I’m Dr Golly, I’ll see you next time.