Colic and your Baby’s Sleep

Colic and your Baby’s Sleep

When you have a baby it is often a wonderful but overwhelming time, weather it be your first or next child. The most important part of being a parent to a newborn is helping them learn to feed, sleep, bond and relax into the world around them. Like the saying going, ‘every baby is different’, so too is the way they react and respond to the world around them. The first few months are filled with learning your child and finding your little rhythm as a newly extended family. In the early weeks after birth some children start to become quite unsettled for no obvious reason. These unsettled periods and baby behaviors is often referred to as Colic.

Colic is a condition that affects very young babies (often starting at 2 weeks) and usually settling by the age of 12 weeks. A baby with colic has frequent spells of intense crying and is difficult to soothe. The periods of being unsettled start to appear in the first weeks after birth. These babies are usually most unsettled in the late afternoon or evening (“witching hour”) and can remain this way for several hours. A colicky baby often finds relief by being walked around or placed over your legs while rubbing his/her back, but sometimes it feels like nothing will help soothe a colicky baby. A typical colicky baby may have a distended stomach, their legs will likely be pulled up towards his/her chest and he/she will look relieved when passing gas or a bowl motion. A bath and massage (with running leg motion, rubbing tummy in a clock wise direction etc) can help soothe an upset baby.

These signs seem to indicate that the discomfort is due to intestinal pain. Whether this is true or not researchers are still in some disagreement. In very severe cases paediatricians may prescribe medication to relax the bowels and ease discomfort. It is also thought that the distended stomach is caused by large amounts of air being swallowed during crying periods. Another possible contributor to colic is severe overstimulation. It is also considered that these babies interpret the world around them as stressful and by the end of the day all this stress and tension become overwhelming, resulting in a tired and cranky baby. This often comes down to your baby’s temperament and personality.

If you are worried that your baby does have colic, then you are able to have them assessed at your GP or child health nurse. Before thinking about having your child assessed or considering that your child has colic there is a simply check list that you can use. When your baby cry’s take the time to think about why they might be crying. Crying is a form of communication for baby’s, so by going through a little check list to identify why they are crying, can really help to settle a crying baby. Baby often cry because they are hungry, tired, bored, need some comforting, pain, illness, needs a nappy change, hot or cold. Once you have been through the check list and your baby is still unsettled and upset every day and possibly a number of times a day, then you may need to see a health care professional to gain some extra support and diagnosis.

To help these babies, it is important to remain calm and give them lots of love and soothing time. They may need to be cuddled or nurse calmly for a longer period of time. You might find putting them in a baby carrier at this time is a good idea. Make the movements with your child calming and gentle. It is also important to let these babies soothe themselves by crying in a calm and supportive environment. In almost all cases colic is resolved by three months and time is the only real factor in solving this issue.

A baby with true colic can be very difficult to soothe, get to sleep and stay asleep, when they are unsettled. A lot of colic baby's enjoy a dark room, being swaddled and lots of soothing, gentle movement to help calm down. Colic baby's are often very easily overstimulated and become very unsettled if handled by many people in one day. By learning what your baby likes and respecting their need to sleep and how they like to settle, will help a colic baby navigate through this time with lots of love and support.

Once your baby has moved on from their colic symptoms you are then able to start thinking about teaching your baby to self-settle and resettle more independently. Before this point it can be very stressful for everyone to start teaching them to sleep more independently. However, by taking to time to bond and learn your baby, you will start to be able to see opportunities where they can start this learning, usually between 4-6 months. Self- settling means that your child is able to go to sleep on their own, unassisted, without a dummy, rock, pat or shush. Independent resettle means your baby is able to transition from one sleep cycle to another without your assistance.

Teaching your baby to resettle should be done with the same sleep method that your baby goes to sleep with. If possible aim to do as much resettling in your babies sleeping space as possible. This will help reinforce that it is sleep time and not time to get up. Once they have learned to resettle successfully, they may wake for a brief period, then put themselves back to sleep without needing any parental intervention. When teaching your baby to sleep from birth to 3-4 months, start with lots of gentle soothing technique and bed time routine. This will more than likely mean you are fully assisting your baby to sleep in the early weeks, and there will be lots of cuddles and assisted nap times (pram/carrier/ baby swing). As your baby gets older, it’s important to learn how to back off from fully assisting your baby to sleep and start teaching them how to settle on their own.

If your child has colic it can be a very stressful time in a family and baby’s life. Learning how to manage colic during this period of time is all about learning your baby and what helps soothe them. Management and time will help everyone get through this period as best as possible. It is also very important to ask for help as often as needed during this time. Help may come from family, friends, partners and loved ones, but no matter who is able to support your family during those colicy days, will help to create a much calmer and more supporting environment for all. If you are needing any extra support during or post a colic period then please email me to discuss how I can help.

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