Colic & Sleep 101: How to sleep when your infant or newborn has colic


3 hours. 3 days a week. 3 weeks in a row.  When your baby is super irritable with colic, my best guess is they aren’t sleeping all that well either.  Most doctors still don’t agree what causes colic or how to fix it, but most will agree that it will subside by 3 months of age. But what are parents with colicky babies supposed to do in the meantime??  3 months is a LONG time in “babyland” right?  Here are some tips to survive the next 3 months:


90 Minute Wake Windows 

This is the MAX amount of time that a newborn can stay awake between sleeps.  So yes, that means you’ve got about 45 minutes to feed, and then you’re only left with another 45 minutes (if that) to change, change clothes, minimal play, and it’s time for that next nap.  Keep in mind some children can only make it 40-60 minutes between naps too, depending on the length of the one prior.

Utilize the Happiest Baby Five S’s

1. Swaddle 2. Side/Stomach position 3. Shushing 4. Swinging.  Quick breakdown: Swaddle those babies up- it helps them feel safe, it mimics the womb, and helps keep moro reflex at bay.  Shushing:  a light “shhhh-shhhh-shhhh” sound you can make, even vacuums and hair dryers have been known to calm down a fussy baby.  Side/Stomach: Instead of the typical cradle position, hold them on their sides, or face down similar to that football hold you learned about in newborn class.   Shushing:  a light “shhhh-shhhh-shhhh” sound you can make as loud as they are crying, even vacuums and hair dryers have been known to calm down a fussy baby. Swinging: this isn’t a super light “jello-like” bouncing or swaying.  Sucking: offering the pacifier or thumb to soothe via oral stimulation.  Start with #1, and add the following steps until your little one has calmed down.

Prioritize your naps and consistent sleep environment 

A baby 0-3 months old should be getting about 4-6 naps a day, with about 10 hours of sleep at night and 5 hours during the day.  Having your baby take naps during the day will increase their chances at a more restful sleep at nighttime, and make them easier to put down for bed.  Make sure that he/her sleep area is dark, with white noise, and the area is free of hazardous materials.

The Witching Hour- Reduce Evening Stimulation

This means limited television, dim the lights, and be sure that the room you are in isn’t overly excitable or crazy.  Limit visitors during this time, asking that they visit instead in the morning when baby is more rested.

Begin a soothing routine, and have an age-appropriate bedtime 

As early as 6-8 weeks old we can give infants social cues, helping them understand what’s “coming next” such as: bathtime, soothing massage, followed by a feed in their sleep environment can all signal that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep.  Most parents are also shocked when I suggest that newborns go to bed between 6-7pm; if you notice your infant becoming increasingly fussy, go ahead and work on timing that bedtime right.  As they get older, you can push that bedtime back little by little.

Encourage baby to sleep or take naps somewhere other than in your arms every time

Courtesy: Nuna

Courtesy: Nuna

Swings, upright bouncers, or Rock n’ Plays (elevated cribs at 30 degrees help also) have all been rumored to help colicky infants.  Know that the first 20 minutes or so of your infant’s sleep is REM or “active” light sleep, so you may have to hold them for 20 minutes until they enter that deeper sleep.  Always swaddle for naps too!

Ask for Help

Asking for help from a family member, good friend, or trusted caretaker is vital.  Even if it’s 30 minutes to watch tv, take your own power nap, or wander the aisles of Target, it’ll feel like an hour.  

If nothing seems to work....

Many colicky babies also have reflux, or silent reflux, which is a burning in their esphogas when milk or solids in the stomach move upward to the esophagus (or vomiting/spitting up) causing a burning sensation in the infant’s throat.  If you have a concern that your baby may be experiencing this, check with your pediatrician.

Being overwhelmed is part of parenting, however postpartum depression, or PPD, can affect up to 80% of women post birth.  These baby blues can begin two weeks post-birth and hang around for another few weeks.  You may be experiencing PPD if you have the following symptoms: anxiety, irritability,  insomnia, lose your appetite, lack of enjoyment or overwhelming fatigue as you go about your day.  Talk to your doctor about options in your area.

For more information regarding colic in babies, here are a few of my trusted go-to sites:

        Web MD- Colic Baby   Mayo Clinic- Colic Newborn

Most babies grow out of colic between 3-4 months of age. Follow these tips above, pray for a decent night’s rest, and hang in there.  If you need any assistance or just want to chat/troubleshoot with a sleep coach, contact us here.  Hang in there!