There is no magic wand when it comes to colic. However, there are steps you can take to tackle the condition.
What is colic?
Doctors define colic as repeated episodes of excessive and inconsolable crying in an otherwise healthy and well cared-for baby. While anyone who’s seen a baby with colic will agree it definitely exists, why it happens is still unclear.
‘One theory is that a newborn’s immature gut struggles to cope with digestion,’ says GP Louise Knight. Some medical professionals think trapped bubbles of gas in your baby’s digestive system cause colic. ‘Another possibility is that it’s triggered by a sensitivity to cow’s milk,’ adds Louise. However, breastfed babies can also get colic so many experts disagree with this theory.
Some believe that colic is caused by over-stimulation – too much light or noise throughout the day meaning your baby gets over-tired and cranky in the afternoon and evening. Bouts of colic can occur from birth but gradually settle down and usually disappear by four months, with no lasting ill effects.
A colicky baby will cry as if in pain and may pull her knees up to her chest as though suffering with tummy ache. Crying can last for long periods, causing distress for parents.
What can you do to help?
Rule out any potential problems, such as your baby feeling hungry, tired or cold. ‘If you’re using formula, try switching brands or a different bottle,’ says Louise. Specially designed bottles and teats reduce the amount of air a baby takes in while feeding.
Paediatrician and renowned US baby expert Dr Harvey Karp believes that colic is a baby’s reaction to being out of the safety and comfort of the womb and recommends replicating pre-birth conditions to soothe a crying baby. He suggests “The five Ss” approach:
- Swaddling – wrapping up your baby snugly in a swaddle to make him feel secure. Watch our video on how to swaddle.
- Side (or stomach) position – holding the baby horizontally sideways across your stomach with lots of bodily contact for reassurance.
- Shhhhh – making a shushing noise like the sound of blood rushing around the womb.
- Swinging – he’s used to movement inside his mother.
- Sucking – a thumb, dummy, bottle or breast all soothe newborns.
How long does it last?
Colicky baby tend to cry for about three hours in a row, every day. It usually lasts for few months and goes away once the baby reaches the age of four to six months.
Is colic harmful?
The baby may seem to be in pain, but usually there is no harm made to his body. It actually is more stressful for parents. It's important that you stay as calm as you can and remember that it's not your fault.
How probiotics can help with colic?
It is not fully proved yet whether probiotics can help a colicky baby; a number of studies claim the opposite, and some say that they actually make symptomes worse.
If you are breastfeeding, try removing cow's milk and other dairy products from your diet as your baby might have an intolerance. You can also speak to your GP or pharmacist about what sort of treatment you can get for your baby.
When to seek advice
Seek advice if your baby shows signs of being ill as well as crying – if she is vomiting, has a high temperature (above 38C), is floppy or unresponsive, has a rash that doesn’t turn white if pressed with glass or refuses to feed for several hours. If you feel overwhelmed, visit cry-sis.org.uk for support and advice.