Baby cries non-stop: Is this colic?

I have a six-week-old little angel who cries non-stop for hours. At night we can do nothing to satisfy her. We have tried to give her bottles, sleep with her on our chests, try walking her, but nothing works. When she's not sleeping, 95 percent of the time she's screaming at the top of her lungs. What can we do to get some sleep?

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

When a baby is not able to be consoled so much of the time, it is very important that she be properly evaluated by her health care provider to rule out any underlying medical condition. Even most very-colicky babies do not spend this much time crying. Usually the crying of colicky baby is limited to the evening hours.

I assume your baby is breastfed. You mentioned that you had tried a bottle to help calm your baby. Was it a bottle of your expressed milk, or formula? Cow's milk and soy allergies are quite common in infants, and even a bit of formula may be causing your baby difficulty. (If your baby has not received any formula, try eliminating all dairy products from your diet for two weeks to see if eating dairy-free helps.)

A condition called gastroesophageal reflux (GER) can cause colicky behavior in infants. It is a regurgitation of stomach acids, and may be the cause of inconsolable crying that appears due to pain, spitting up and fussiness after feeds. It is seen in almost one third of all babies. GER is less commonly seen in breastfed babies. Medical tests can be performed, but because they can be invasive, some physicians treat a baby for GER after taking a careful history of colicky incidents.

It sure can be difficult to get some sleep when you have a colicky or high-need baby! Once you have ruled out any medical problem, it's time to begin finding effective ways to mother your high-need baby, and care for yourself:

  • Enjoy lots of cuddling. High-need babies usually love to be carried and held, just like every other baby. Invest in a baby sling so you can easily carry your baby as you go about your day (and maybe night). Lots of carrying and skin-to-skin contact should help to decrease your baby's periods of crying. You might want to try taking a warm and relaxing bath together in the evening.
  • Nurse frequently. Your baby will benefit from the intimacy, and the smaller and more frequent feeds won't be as likely to tax her immature digestive system.
  • Don't let your baby cry it out. Your baby needs to know that you are there for her when she cries. When a baby's cries are promptly responded to, studies show, she cries less. If your baby's cries become difficult for you to handle, be sure to ask your partner for help. You may need to take some short breaks from the crying. Your partner's loving arms can also provide comfort for your baby.
  • Rest when your baby rests. Nap together and share sleep at night. Sharing sleep may help to organize your baby's sleep cycles.
  • Remember, this stage will pass. Colicky behavior usually peaks in intensity around six to eight weeks of age. By three months of age, only 50 percent of babies show signs of colic, and for the most part, by six months it is over.
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