Calming and sleep tips for colicky babies

Baby  |  Colic  |  Wellness

When you have a baby with colic, it can be hard to know what to do when it comes to calming and settling them to sleep. As a sleep consultant, here are some of my main tips that might help provide some guidance on sleep as your baby journeys through colic.

1: Colicky babies will often escalate quickly or have long periods of crying or unsettled behaviour.
To avoid becoming overwhelmed, babies sometimes need to disengage and take a break from communicating. Subtle signs of disengagement are looking away and squirming.

2: Be mindful of awake windows:
Try and use your babies sleep cues as a guide to offer them a sleep. It may feel that colicky babies are constantly showing tired cues or escalate very quickly when they are tired. If tired cues are challenging to read, try offering a pattern of swaddling, cuddling or patting in a low stimulating room or sleep space after every 60 to 90 minutes of awake time during the day.

3: Babies release “feel good” hormones when their skin is in direct contact with yours.
Try holding them with their cheek against your cheek or chest, or hold your hand gently on their cheek or head and offer chest to chest cuddles.

4: Dr. Harvey Karp invented the 5 S’s as a method to comfort and soothe fussy babies. These techniques can work for all babies, but can be especially helpful with babies who have colic:

  • Swaddle: Swaddling is an age-old tradition for keeping fussy babies nice and calm. Red Nose – Australia’s leading authority on safe sleep recommends to use only lightweight wraps such as cotton or muslin (bunny rugs and blankets are not safe alternatives as they may cause overheating). The wrap should be firm, to prevent loose wrapping becoming loose bedding. However the wrap should not be too tight and must allow for hip and chest wall movement. Make sure that baby is not over dressed under the wrap. Use only a nappy and singlet in warmer weather and add a lightweight grow suit in cooler weather. A good time to try swaddling your baby is during feedings if they have trouble settling down.
  • Side/Stomach: Hold your baby against your stomach on their side or their stomach to help calm them. (But always put them to sleep on their back to help reduce the risk of SIDS).
  • Shush: Shushing or patting the mattress and shushing can replicate the sounds of being in Utero. This can feel odd but can be very comforting to colicky babies!
  • Swing: Sway your baby from side-to-side using your body.
  • Suck: Offer a dummy or your thumb/finger to provide your newborn with
    their non-nutritive need for sucking.

5: Follow Red Noses 6 steps to safe sleeping:

  • Sleep your baby on their back: not on their tummy or side.
  • Keep your baby’s head and face uncovered: Covering a baby’s face or head with clothing such as a hat increases the risk of sudden infant death
  • Keep your baby smoke free before and after birth
  • Have a safe sleeping environment night and day: Make sure the mattress is firm, clean and flat, in a safe cot that meets industry standards.
  • Make sure there are no blankets, toys, pillows, or bumpers in the cot.
  • Sleep your baby in your room: The safest place to sleep your baby for the first 12 months is in a safe cot next to your bed.
  • Breastfeed your baby where possible.

6: Take care of yourself, too!
When your baby cries for no apparent reason and isn’t easily calmed, it can be distressing. Your newborn needs you to be calm as well, which might be difficult if you are exhausted. Ask friends or family members to relieve you so you may go for a walk outside, nap, or have some alone time. Taking care of oneself is not
selfish. Restoring your capacity to remain calm may be the most beneficial thing you can do for your baby.

This blog post was written by Nat Van Winckel, sleep consultant at Willby’s. 

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