COLIC OR JUST OVERTIRED?
You anticipate this sweet little baby being born the second you see that positive pregnancy test, you envision calm snuggle sessions, and peacefully watching them doze off to sleep….and for some parents this is the reality, but for some parents this is far from it.
Short background. Before becoming a Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I worked in the hospital as a Pediatric Nurse. I knew all about colic, underdeveloped gastrointestinal systems, why sleep was important for development, growth, and mood, but nothing could prepare me when on maternity leave with my second baby.
Picture waking up, feeding your baby, sending other kids off to school, scrolling through emails and Instagram, just WAITING for the day to erupt.
This was me. Almost every day at 10AM my precious little baby girl would start to cry. We tired gas drops, probiotics, going dairy free, pumping milk, formula. You name it, we tried it.
The ONLY way she calmed down was in her swing at speed 89959 with blaring white noise or driving in the car. (We spent a lot of money on gas back in those days.)
She would never seem comfortable in my arms when awake, and when she would eventually cry to the point of exhaustion, her naps would be only 30 minutes.
The crying would escalate and become higher pitched into the early evening hours. We watched a lot of the show “The Voice” during those days since her cries wouldn’t let us be ever be able to follow a storyline.
Her saving grace was that she worked herself up so much all day that she was ready to get swaddled snug and be asleep by 7pm at night.
My pediatrician was great, but I continuously got the answer, “It seems to be colic, unfortunately this happens and just has to pass.”
Which left me with tons of questions like,
“WHAT DOES THAT MEAN??”
“I CAN’T DO ANYTHING?”
“HOW LONG DO WE HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS?”
I felt defeated. But was it colic? Or was I just missing her sleep cues and creating an overtired baby every day? (Questions I can ask myself now!)
Colic Vs. Overtired.
Colic is described as frequent, prolonged, and intense crying or fussiness in a healthy infant. (Mayo Clinic) The cause is unknown, but hypnotized to be related to dietary issues, extra gas, or maybe an underdeveloped digestive system.
- Peak time to start is about 6 weeks old and begins to decline around 4 months old
- Will notice high pitched screaming
- Extreme fussiness
- Predictable timing of crying
- Body tension
The main guidelines for determining Colic are “The Rule of Three”:
- Episodes last at least 3 hours in length
- Occurs at least 3 days a week
- Persists at least 3 weeks in a row
Check, Check, Check. My baby had colic. But these “rules” are super vague.
So now, you might be thinking .... “That’s us, that’s my baby!!” Or, “OK No, my baby isn’t that bad, but they do have some of the similar symptoms.”
Did you know that an OVERTIRED baby can mimic colic symptoms??
- Back Arching
- Hysterical Crying
- Hands in fists
- Rigid tone
- Difficult to console
Looks similar right???
If you feel like you are questioning if you baby might have colic, but doesn’t fit into the full definition of what colic is, I challenge you to try re-evaluating your baby’s sleep. Even if your baby fits the colic definition, I still challenge you to look at your child’s sleep!!
I wish I had known what I know now when she was born. It might not have alleviated all our problems, but I think it could have helped me at least try and gain more control.
How do I tell if they are overtired?
Below is a chart to review Baby Sleep Cues.
It is important to catch your baby when they are starting to get tired vs. tired or overtired.
Another way to help assure that they are not overtired is to look for your child’s appropriate “Wake Window”. This is the time from when their eyes open to when they go to sleep next.
Each age has an estimated average window to help guide you.
Scenario Example: Your 3-month-old wakes up from a nap at 10AM. You can estimate that they will most likely start to get tired around 75-90 minutes of being awake, so keep an eye on the clock and around that time start to look for some signs of being tired—maybe they start to have a blank stare, or their eyebrows look a little red, this would be the time you should be starting your nap time routine and get them gearing up for another nap! You don't have to wait for them to get fussy! Putting a baby down to sleep smiling is a beautiful thing!
Tips to ease the crying.
Whether your child is suffering from colic or your baby is exhibiting symptoms of being overtired, life can be hard trying to figure it out. No matter how much they cry, all babies need comfort and love to build trust especially in the beginning months of life.
Ways to help soothe a crying baby:
- Soothing bath
- Calming massage
- Repetitive movements (Bouncing on a yoga ball, gently patting, or rocking in arms)
- LOUD white noise
- Sucking on a pacifier
- Swaddling (if not rolling!) or Swaddle transition (like The Magic Merlin Sleepsuit, if not able to roll in the suit!)
Most babies who have a hard time settling also have a hard time transitioning through sleep cycles, that is why The Magic Merlin Sleep Suit was seriously magical for us when she was breaking out of her swaddles at 3 months!
We had a rough start to our time together, but after 4.5 months of crying, the tides started to shift, I got to stop worrying about her in pain, we started to enjoy TV with storylines, and soaked in those sweet baby smiles we had been missing.
Please always seek medical advice if you are worried about your child and their wellbeing. It is also extremely important for you to examine your wellbeing and get support not only in the first few months of your child's life, but especially if you find yourself with a fussy baby. It can be wearing on a human to hear their child cry that much and it doesn’t make you weak to ask for help!!!!
About the Author:
Jenna is the owner of Wink & Bundle, a pediatric sleep consulting company based in DC Metro Area.
She is a certified pediatric sleep consultant, a pediatric nurse, and a mother of four children who loves to help tired parents teach their children how to get great restorative sleep.
Her personalized approach helps establish sleep foundations, set patterns, and new routines to fit your family and parenting style.
She LOVES sleep, and her goal is to create a non-judgmental, nurturing environment for families where they can gain encouragement and knowledge through her experience and nursing background—all through a mom's heart!
Check out her website: https://winkandbundle.com