What type of colic does your baby have? Find out and you’ll be better able to soothe her, says maternity nurse and colic consultant (coliccare.co.uk) Fe Baker.
Does your baby have colic? If she does, then your natural instinct will be to want to help her.
But despite colic being such a common condition, and scientists conducting years of research, as yet there’s no conclusive cause – hence no single fix-all cure.
Often the solution is simply to wait it out, as normally babies grow out of colic by the age of four months.
But I think there’s another answer.
As a nurse and colic consultant I’ve worked with hundreds of babies, and raised four of my own, and with all that experience I believe there are four distinct types of colic, each with its own set of specific symptoms and causes.
I’ve found that if you can identify the type of colic a baby has, you can then work out how best to calm and soothe her.
Once you have this understanding, you can help to calm and soothe your baby too.
The four types of Colic are:
Which type of colic you think most closely matches your baby’s behaviour?
A young baby’s digestive system isn’t fully developed, so she may feel pain in her stomach or abdomen. This is the traditional medical view of colic and it’s what most people mean when they talk about it.
Does this sound like your baby?
- My baby seems uncomfortable and cries a lot about an hour after her feeds, and especially in the evening.
- Sometimes she pulls her knees up to her chest.
- When she cries it can sometimes sound like more of a groan.
- Her tummy gurgles and feels quite hard.
- I’ve noticed her moaning and wriggling around in her sleep too.
- Often the crying isn’t that bad to start off with, but then it escalates.
- It can take a long time for her to burp, but when she does she brings up a lot of milk.
- She seems uncomfortable right before she does a poo.
How to help your baby with Digestic Colic
If your baby has digestive colic, it’s time to turn detective. There may be several possible causes, such as an imbalance in her stomach acid levels, reflux or a milk intolerance. Sift through the possibilities to rule out possible causes, and you should be able to figure out the problem and take action to solve it.
Look for clues
If the colic has a medical cause, there are likely to be other symptoms too. Does your baby have diarrhoea, constipation, foul-smelling poos, a white tongue or severe nappy rash? Is she less interested in the world around her than you think she should be? If you spot any of these, talk to your GP about carrying out tests to help pinpoint the cause.
Feed with care
If she has digestive colic, your baby is likely to benefit from a feeding pattern every three to four hours. We’re not suggesting that you stick rigidly to a feeding routine, but it will help if, when you can, she has time between feeds to properly digest what she’s drunk, and that she’s hungry enough to want another full feed.
Calm her before feeds
If she’s crying when it’s time to feed her, try to calm her first, rather than calming her by feeding her. Otherwise the air she’ll swallow can make her colic symptoms worse.
Check her feeding position
Whether you’re bottle- or breastfeeding, her chin must be up so she can suck, breathe and swallow without gulping air.
Empty one breast at a time
If you’re breastfeeding, let her empty your first breast before offering the other, as snacking from one side to the other provides only the fore milk.
This is high in protein and sugar, but low in fat, so it relieves hunger but adds to colic.
Carry out checks if you’re bottle-feeding
If you’re bottle-feeding, check you’re using the right-sized teat for her age, and you’re holding the bottle so there’s no air in the teat. Take an extra minute at every feed to check the formula is always thoroughly mixed and at the right temperature.
During the first few weeks of life, areas of your baby’s body may be slightly misaligned. And it’s understandable why – perhaps if your natural birth was very quick or less than smooth, or you’ve had a c-section.
Sometimes, nothing needs to have happened to have caused physical colic – your baby may simply be feeling the effects of being in a cramped position in your womb.
She might be experiencing muscular, skeletal or joint discomfort, usually in her neck, back or pelvis. It’s similar to how you feel if you’ve put your back out: there’s a constant ache and you can’t get comfortable.
Does this sound like your baby?
- My newborn seems constantly uncomfortable.
- She cries a lot, but it's worse in the evening. Even when I cuddle her she feels tense, no matter how I hold her, but at least cuddling usually helps to console her.
- My baby is happy on her own for a short time, and mainly sleeps well. But when she wakes, she cries immediately.
- She doesn’t have a problem bringing wind up, and the health visitor says her poos are normal. Occasionally after a feed, she might posset, but she never vomits her whole feed.
- If I wind her on my shoulder she arches her back and gets upset.
- She cries as soon as I put her on her tummy.
How to help your baby with Physical Colic
If you think that your baby has physical colic, gently stretching her body can help to get everything back into alignment and make her more comfortable.
Incorporate movement into the time you spend together. You don’t need to move your baby in a particular way, but simply help her move her body slowly and gently in whichever way seems comfortable for her, stopping if she becomes unhappy.
She may enjoy you singing as you do the exercises: try singing The Wheels on the Bus and change the words to describe each action: ‘My baby’s little hands go clap, clap, clap...’
Upper body stretch
Lie your baby on her back with her arms open wide. Slowly bring her hands together to clap, and then open them again. Then bring her arms in and pass them across her body, as if she's giving herself a cuddle, then open them again.
Move her arms so they’re lying down by her sides, then lift them alternately up over her head. Finally, lift both arms together above her head and bring them down again.
Lower body stretch
Lie your baby on her back. Holding her ankles with both your hands, gently lift her legs, so her bottom raises slightly, but keep her shoulders on the floor. Lower and repeat.
Next, holding her feet, slowly bend her knees, then let her knees drop outwards and clap the soles of her feet together. Repeat.
Now hold her legs just below her knees, bringing her knees together and bending them up to her tummy. Hold, then repeat.
Finally, hold one leg straight on the floor, then bend the other, bringing her knee towards her opposite shoulder. Hold and repeat.
This is a great way to help with physical discomfort. Watch our video guide to baby massage here.
A baby who’s easily over-stimulated by her new, unfamiliar surroundings can become upset when there’s just too much going on for her to cope with. This seems to happen more after the first month, with babies who are alert, observant and very intelligent.
So while she’s able to take a lot in, and is stimulated by her new world, it can suddenly become too much and crying is her way of saying, ‘I can’t deal with all this any more.’
Does this sound like your baby?
- My one-month-old baby often cries randomly for no apparent reason, especially at night.
- Sometimes when we’re out she’ll go from being happy and interested to high-pitched inconsolable crying.
- She doesn’t seem to sleep for long periods, often just 20 minutes at a time, even if we do lots of activities to tire her out. Sometimes she wakes up and cries immediately.
- She wasn’t like this in the first few weeks, but now she finds it difficult to calm down once she’s crying.
How to help your baby with Intellectual Colic
Soothing a baby with intellectual colic is all about making it easier for her to adjust to this crazy new world.
Play white noise
A constant hum of noise often soothes this type of colic, as it’s similar to what she would have heard in your womb.
Download the White Noise Baby app, 79p, play.google.com, to your phone or tune out your radio to create a calming background noise.
Fine-tune your routine
Long, unstructured days can leave her feeling a little lost. So, introduce a balanced daily pattern of regular activities in short time-slots.
She’ll quickly become accustomed to this rhythm and, when she knows what’s coming next, she should feel more secure.
And balance physical and mental stimulation with plenty of relaxing quiet time.
See the world through her eyes
How hectic is the baby group? How bright are the lights in the supermarket? How strongly does that frying bacon smell? Once you realise just how much she’s taking in, you’ll become adept at knowing when she’s had enough, and when to take some time out.
Some babies are very sensitive to emotions, and these highly attuned little ones are often very intelligent.
Sometimes it’s hard to see any real reason for this type of colic: she’s simply feeling insecure in this new world, and needs reassurance from you that it’s all OK.
Or it could be that she’s picking up on your emotions, if you’re worrying about doing the best job that you possibly can, or her crying upsets you.
Does this sound like your baby?
My baby cries at the worst possible moment – at the end of the day when I’m exhausted, or when she’s about to go in the bath.
- Sometimes I feel like I just don’t know what she wants, so I feel upset too.
- The crying goes on for a long time, and she curls herself up.
- The slightest noise wakes her up, so I’m constantly tired.
- Sometimes if I stop what I’m doing and pick her up, she’s happy again, but if I put her down she’ll get upset.
How to help your baby with Emotional Colic
The most effective treatments I’ve found for emotional colic are for the mum, not the baby. Because the more confident you become (and you will!), the more she’ll relax knowing you’re feeling happy and secure.
Listen to your intuition and be confident: you’re doing a great job and it’s normal for new mums to worry about getting things right.
The very fact that you’re concerned about doing a good job means you’re succeeding! Share how you feel with your mum-friends too.
Take some time out
It will really help your baby to relax if you’re feeling happy and relaxed too. When your baby is having a colicky evening, let your partner cope on his own for 10 minutes while you take a short walk outside.
You’ll come back in a better frame of mind and will be better able to help her calm down.
Swaddle your baby
Swaddling an oversensitive baby can create a feeling of security through the familiarity of womb-like boundaries. And this reassurance can help her to relax.