There’s a reason behind everything in nature.
For a colic theory to be proven correct it must fit all ten colic clues. After long and exhaustive study, I have found the only theory that explains all ten and solves the centuries-old mystery of colic is the concept of the missing fourth trimester:
1. Colicky crying usually starts at two weeks, peaks at six weeks, and ends by three to four months of age.
For the first two weeks of life, newborns have little alert time. This helps keep them from getting over- or understimulated and thus delays the onset of colic.
After two weeks, babies start staying alert for longer periods. Mellow babies can easily handle the stimulation this increased alertness exposes them to. However, babies who are poor self-calmers or who have challenging temperaments may begin to get overwhelmed. Thus the crying starts.
By six weeks, these vulnerable babies are very alert and very overstimulated, yet they still have poor state control. They launch into bouts of screaming that can be soothed only by masterful imitations of the womb.
By three to four months, colic disappears. Now babies are skilled at cooing, laughing, sucking their fingers, and other self-calming tricks. They are mature enough to deal with the world without the constant holding, rocking, and shushing of the fourth trimester. At last, they are ready to be born!
2. Preemies are no more likely to have colic than full-term babies. (And their colic doesn’t start until they are about two weeks past their due date.)
Preemies are good sleepers, even in noisy intensive-care units. Their immature brains have mastered the sleep state, but not the complex state of alertness. This near absence of alert time fools preemies into thinking they’re still in the womb. They don’t notice they’re missing the fourth trimester until they’re past their due date and become more awake and alert.
3. Colicky babies have twisted faces and piercing wails. Often, their cries come in waves (like cramps) and stop abruptly.
Your baby’s colicky cries may sound identical to the wails he makes when he’s in pain. However, many babies overreact to trivial experiences (loud noises, burps, etc.) with pain-like screams. They’re like smoke alarms that go off even though only a little piece of toast burned.
The fact that these shrieks can be quieted by car rides or breast-feeding proves these babies aren’t in agony. What they’re really suffering from is the loss of their fourth trimester.
4. Their screams frequently begin during or just after a feeding.
Babies who cry during or right after meals are usually overreacting to their gastro-colic reflex, the intestinal squeezing that occurs when the stomach fills with food. Most babies have no problem with this reflex, but for colicky babies, at the end of the day (and at the end of their patience), this sensation may be the last straw that launches them into hysterics.
That this distress vanishes after three months (while the gastro-colic reflex is still going strong) further supports the notion that this crampy feeling triggers screaming only in babies who need the calming sensations of the fourth trimester.
5. They often double up, grunt, strain, and seem relieved by passing gas or pooping.
All babies experience intestinal gas; however, this sensation triggers screaming only in infants with sensitive and/or intense temperaments. Even those babies usually stop crying when rescued by the calming rhythms of the womb.
6. Colic is often much worse in the evening (the “witching hour”).
Just as some harried moms crumble at the end of their toddlers’ birthday parties, some young babies unravel after a full day’s roller-coaster ride of activity. Without the fourth trimester to settle them down, these vulnerable infants bubble over each evening like pots of hot pudding.
7. Colic is as likely to occur with a couple’s fifth baby as with their first.
Each new baby represents a reshuffling of their parents’ personal deck of genetic traits. That’s why a couple’s first four babies may be calm and easy to keep happy, while their fifth may inherit traits like sensitivity or poor state control that make him fall apart unless he’s held and rocked all day.
These colicky babies require the sanctuary of the fourth trimester to help them cope until they’re mature enough to soothe themselves.
8. Colicky crying often improves with rocking, holding, shhhhing, and gentle abdominal pressure.
This clue is compelling proof that the true cause of uncontrollable crying in babies is their need for a few more months in the uterus. That’s because each of these calming tricks imitates the womb, and after three months they’re no longer required.
9. Babies are healthy and happy between crying bouts.
If the only reason babies have colic is because they’re born too soon, it’s logical to expect immature infants to be healthy and happy until something pushes them over the edge.
10. In many cultures around the world, babies never get colic.
The babies of the villagers of Bali, the bushmen of Botswana, and the Manali tribesmen of the Himalayan foothills all share one trait: these babies never suffer from persistent crying. When anthropologists study “colic-free” cultures, they find that the mothers in those societies closely follow the fourth-trimester plan. Women hold their infants almost twenty-four hours a day, feed them frequently, and constantly rock and jiggle them. For several months, these moms give their babies an almost constant imitation of the womb.
Only the missing fourth trimester explains all the colic clues. However, if soothing a screaming baby is just a matter of imitating the womb with some wrapping and rocking, why do these approaches so often fail to calm colicky kids? The reason is quite simple: Parents in our culture are rarely taught how to do them correctly.
Thankfully, it’s not too late to learn, and in the next part of this book, I will share with you detailed descriptions of the world’s most effective methods for calming crying babies.
Unlike newborn horses, our babies are not up and running on the first day of life; they need a fourth trimester to finish getting ready for the world
The striking differences between four-day-old and four-month-old babies
Ancient lessons you can learn from some mothers whose children never get colic
That which was done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun.
Picture a crisp December day, gleaming like a jewel. Yesterday your life changed with the birth of a beautiful baby boy. Now, as the nurse wheels his bassinet into your room, your son lifts his fragile head, slowly turns to face you, and flashes a big grin! Then he vaults into your arms and, with a laugh that makes your heart melt, proclaims, “You’re the best mom in the whole world!”
Of course, no one expects their baby to walk and talk right after birth. However, many modern parents are unprepared for how dependent and vulnerable newborns truly are. They expect their babies to be more mature, sort of like baby horses! Within minutes of birth, newborn horses can stand, walk, and even run. A baby horse’s survival depends on these crucial abilities to keep away from hungry predators. By comparison, our new babies are still immature little fetuses.