When our son had colic, I remember once thinking that terrible ear-piercing wail was the ultimate sound of failure. More than anything I worried that it was somehow my fault. My fears were so deep and powerful that I couldn’t have voiced them at the time. It turns out that many of the things I was worried about were totally unfounded, so I thought I’d share some reassuring science and bust a few colic myths.
What is Colic?
The most commonly accepted medical definition of colic is a baby whose needs have all been met and who is otherwise healthy, but who cries for more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week for more than 3 weeks. A key symptom of colic is that the baby is very difficult/impossible to console by cuddling and soothing.
If your baby is crying excessively its important not to assume that your baby has colic, make sure you get your doctor to check your baby over, because there are other serious conditions with similar symptoms.
Myth #1 – Colic is caused by anxious/stressed parents
There is a prevailing urban myth out there that colic is caused by parental anxiety. It may help to know that this myth is simply unfounded. Scientists have conducted a whole raft of studies investigating whether there is a psychosocial cause of colic and found no evidence that parental anxiety causes colic. For example, even in a study where trained occupational therapists cared for colicky infants, they still cried for twice as long as infants without colic.
Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim to relax as much as you can. Obviously if you can reduce your stress levels that’s going to benefit everyone: you, your baby and your partner. However, you can rest assured that it is not your stress that is causing the colic, and it is very normal for the colic to cause you stress. Sometimes just knowing that can help a little.
Myth #2: Am I No Good At Parenting?
This is a common worry: one research study showed that mothers of colicky babies reported feeling less competent as mothers (not that they were less competent, but that they felt that way). I know that thought occurred to me more than once…
Estimates of colic vary widely, but a middle ground figure of around 20% is commonly accepted. That’s one in five babies screaming for more than 3 hours a day. Babies with colic are inherently very difficult to settle, so the fact that you’re finding it hard is because of the colic, it is not because you’re no good at parenting.
Myth #3: Colicky babies are ‘difficult’ or ‘fussy’
People sometimes imply that colic occurs because the baby has a ‘difficult’ temperament, so it can be a relief to know about a research study that followed up a group of babies with colic at one year old. This study showed that the colicky group had no behavioural differences using the Toddler Temperament Scale compared to a group of infants without colic.
What was your colic experience like? Are there other colic myths you’ve heard?
For more information about colic and what you can do about it check out Survivor’s Guide to Colic.