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Colic: 10 steps to stop the crying

Colic: 10 steps to stop the crying

It’s tough coping with a colicky baby, but we’ve put together a plan to help ease her distress…

MEET THE EXPERT: Dr Barry Lester from the Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island in America.

Up to half of infants suffer from colic, so if you currently spend your evenings pacing the living room with a crying baby, rest assured that you’re not the only one. There are many theories as to what causes colic, but the truth is, no one knows what is actually responsible for it.

It’s also been linked to a milk-protein allergy, lactose intolerance and wind

Many colic symptoms point to abdominal discomfort, leading some experts to theorise that colic is related to reflux (milk in the stomach coming back up into the oesophagus). It’s also been linked to a milk-protein allergy, lactose intolerance and wind. Many experts agree, in some cases, it’s likely to be related to stress rather than abdominal pain. 

The overall conclusion is that there are many causes of colic. And this means, if you want to find the solution that helps ease colic for your baby, you’ll need to try some different options.

What is colic?

The standard definition of a baby with colic is one who cries for at least three hours per day, at least three days per week, for at least three weeks. ‘But 20% of perfectly normal babies would also meet this rule,’ says Dr Barry. He prefers to define colic as ‘a crying disorder in which there is a prominent complaint about the amount, frequency and quality of the crying, which causes a significant impairment or disfunction either in the infant or the family.’

Colic tends to occur in the first three months of an infant’s life

Colic tends to occur in the first three months of an infant’s life and generally strikes in the afternoon or evening. Symptoms include a sudden onset of excessive, stop/start crying, a cry that seems to indicate pain, clenched fists, stiff limbs and a tight stomach. The baby cannot be consoled by routine comfort measures.

Keep a sleep diary

‘Sometimes a baby appears to have a colic problem but in fact has a sleep disorder,’ says Dr Barry. ‘She can’t put herself to sleep or she can’t stay asleep, and that’s at the root of her unsettled behaviour.’

Keep a diary, broken into half-hour slots, and note when your baby is feeding, when she is sleeping and when she is crying. This will help you work out if a sleep problem is triggering the crying episodes. If this does appear to be the cause, help your baby to form solid sleep habits with consistent, regular and calming routines, putting her down while drowsy but still awake.

Get help with feeding

The Colic Clinic sees many babies whose crying episodes occur after feeding. ‘We have specialists to look at the baby’s feeding position and latch, whether she is grazing instead of taking full feeds, and the mother’s milk production,’ says Dr Barry.

So, if you’re breastfeeding, consult a lactation specialist to get one-on-one advice. To find out what help is available in your area, talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP, or call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.

Take some me-time

‘Colic can badly shake a mum’s confidence in her parenting ability,’ says Dr Barry. Many mums coping with a colicky baby also struggle with feelings of anger or disappointment, which in turn can trigger feelings of guilt.

Studies show a strong correlation between maternal depression and colic. ‘And that can affect the relationship with her baby,’ adds Dr Barry. Me-time can help to counteract this.

‘You need to get back in touch with the part of you that is not a mother, and be reminded that this colicky phase is not your whole life,’ says Dr Barry. ‘Take some time to exercise, read a book or go shopping.’ 

Have a date night

What’s a date night got to do with colic? ‘It’s critical!’ says Dr Barry. ‘The stress of having a baby with colic can very easily drive a wedge not only between the parent-infant relationship, but between the parents as well, and cause marital problems.

Working on your relationship is more important than making the babysitter’s life difficult

‘Parents tell me they couldn’t leave a babysitter to cope with their screaming baby, even for an hour, but working on your relationship is more important than making the sitter’s life difficult for a very short while.’

Carry your baby

Research found that babies who were carried for four to five hours a day cried less at six weeks old than those carried for two to three hours. ‘Put your baby in a carrier and take her for a walk,’ says Dr Barry.

‘The baby’s closeness to a parent can be comforting and the vibrations of movement comforting.’ It also gets you out of the house and gives you a reminder that you’re not a prisoner to colic.

Lower the levels of stimulation

‘Some colicky babies are over-stimulated,’ says Dr Barry. ‘Lowering the level of stimulation by keeping their atmosphere very calm can help.’

Add notes to your diary documenting the environment your baby is in when and before colicky episodes occur. If a pattern emerges, respond to it accordingly. ‘Bear in mind that some babies use stimulation to calm themselves,’ adds Dr Barry. ‘Some mums report the noise of a shopping centre calmed their baby.’

Is it reflux?

Lots of babies spit up milk, but some babies suffer from a more serious form of reflux. Gastro-oesophageal reflux occurs when the muscle that prevents stomach acid from leaking back into the oesophagus doesn’t close tightly and this can cause colic. Keep your baby upright after feeding. If you’re concerned she might have this condition, see your GP, as there are medicines that can help.

Look at what you’re eating

Lactose intolerance is a cause of colicky symptoms. If you bottle-feed, ask your GP about switching to a hypoallergenic milk formula. 

NHS colic guidelines suggest removing dairy products from your diet for a week to see if your baby’s symptoms improve

If you breastfeed, analyse what you’re eating. A 2005 study found that removing allergenic foods – such as cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, wheat and soy – from a breastfeeding mother’s diet reduced crying and fussiness in babies under six weeks. And NHS colic guidelines suggest removing dairy products from your diet for a week to see if your baby’s symptoms improve. But be aware that you need a balanced diet as a new mum, so talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes.

Swaddle your baby

‘If your baby is exhibiting strong physical signs as well as crying, like arching her back, I sometimes recommend swaddling,’ says Dr Lester. ‘Wrap her really securely, so she’s like an Egyptian mummy, and then rock her or place her against your shoulder.’

Film a colic episode

You can show this to your doctor. ‘If your doctor isn’t being helpful, this can help them see the severity of your baby’s colicky episode,’ says Dr Barry. ‘Ask to be referred to a paediatrician
for a detailed assessment.’

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