Colic, Soothing, and Sleep Learning
July 8, 2021
Owlet’s resident parenting expert, Emily Osborne, recounts her personal experience dealing with colic with her daughter. Emily is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, Certified Lactation Counselor, and Safe Sleep Educator who specializes in newborn behaviors and postpartum support for new parents. With 14 years of experience, Emily is here to share her parenting and sleep expertise with you.
My eldest daughter had colic as a newborn, also referred to as persistent crying. Every day for weeks she would cry for hours at a time. It was very stressful and it caused a significant amount of postpartum anxiety for me. I’d get through the day, watch the clock, and dread the afternoon and evening hours. At the time, my son was 2 years old, so I was an exhausted mom of a very active young boy and baby girl who was branded the “Crier” by my friends and family.
What is colic?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 1 in 5 babies will develop patterns of behavior long known as colic. From a medical perspective, colic is defined as persistent periods of inconsolable crying or significant distress in an otherwise healthy and well-nourished baby. Colic is characterized by the rule of 3’s: crying that lasts for 3 hours, for at least 3 days per week, for a period of at least 3 weeks.
It typically begins between 2-4 weeks of age and can continue for several months. Medical professionals usually recommend seeking counsel to determine if there is a medical condition present that might be contributing to the crying behaviors associated with colic. If your baby is otherwise healthy, colic is, unfortunately, something that parents must simply deal with privately at home.
Coping with colic
In our case, as exhausted young parents, my husband and I looked to our support system for help during that challenging time. Some individuals would attempt to hold her during those hours of incessant crying, but many others were intimidated by her screams and would just watch from the background as my husband and I would trade-off trying to soothe her.
I felt so helpless during that time, and I also felt angry. I wished someone would just swoop in and rescue me from those hours of crying every night. We tried several methods of soothing, and read books about how to calm babies with inconsolable crying. In the end, the real solution ended up being time. Our baby girl just needed time to mature and develop, time to get past those newborn weeks, and time to grow into a much happier, calmer little girl.
Back then, the time went by so slowly, and I thought the crying would never end. But looking back now, it really was just a blip in my daughter’s life. There was nothing “wrong” with my baby—she didn’t have reflux, or allergies, or anything medical going on with her. It was just something we had to wait out; something that most new parents find very hard because we all want a solution when we think our baby has a problem that needs fixing.
Newborn behaviors can be extremely challenging to understand and respond to, and colic breaks many of the rules for typical soothing strategies. For almost all babies, learning to self-soothe takes time. In the early weeks after birth, your little one will depend on you to comfort and soothe them. This establishes a trusting relationship between you and your baby, and you will not spoil your baby by providing this level of care and comfort.
As your baby gets a little older, you can help promote self-soothing skills by encouraging your baby to use their hands for comfort. I also recommend using white noise or a shushing sound to help babies learn to fall asleep. When we use soothing strategies with our babies, we are laying the foundation for healthy sleep habits. The ability to fall asleep independently takes time and practice.
By practicing these techniques for soothing early on, you are also helping your baby begin to learn how to relax and calm when certain aspects of the environment are consistent. This is why a consistent bedtime routine greatly increases a baby’s ability to learn how to fall asleep. During the first 3-4 months of your baby’s life, it is important to continue supporting consistent sleep routines. And once your baby is a bit older, you can get support establishing more consistent nighttime sleep with our sleep learning program, Dream Lab.
Dream Lab by Owlet is an online, personalized infant sleep solution that offers safe, easy and proven ways to build healthy sleep habits that support your child’s development and allow you to be the happy, engaged parent you want to be. Designed for babies 4 to 12 months, Dream Lab is a convenient and interactive sleep training program designed specifically for your baby and you. Step-by-step sleep plans, video tutorials, and access to support from Owlet sleep experts will have you experiencing better sleep for you and baby in as few as 7 days —guaranteed.
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