What is colic: A survival guide for parents



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Remember, it won't last forever.

Image: Shutterstock

What is colic? The million dollar question, right? Infant colic, is a common problem in babies and one of the most challenging issues a parent faces in their child’s early life. It is often associated with high levels of frustration, sleepless nights and countless trips to the GP. Although a common problem, its causes are, to this day, relatively unknown. 

Colic is often medically defined as episodes of irritability, fussing, or crying that begin and end for no apparent reason in an otherwise healthy baby. It can last for at least three hours a day, every day in the first four months of a baby's life.

Whilst colic can present as crying there may also be other symptoms associated with the episodes including:

  • Arching their back

  • Drawing their legs up towards their chest

  • Going red in the face

It can be very difficult to tell if your baby has colic, especially as he or she can’t yet communicate with you. It is important to consider some of the things which may be making your baby uncomfortable, such as:

  • Temperature

  • Nappies

  • Hunger

  • Being unwell

The last point is important. Remember, colic is a diagnosis in babies who are well. Typically, babies with colic are otherwise generally healthy between the episodes of crying, feed well, are pooing normally and do not vomit. They have no issues with weight loss or struggling to gain weight. 

If your baby is crying a lot in a way which is unusual for them, and you are struggling to console them, we would always recommend seeking medical help. Your doctor will want to rule out other medical causes before making a diagnosis of colic.

If your baby has any of the following signs, then seeking medical help is especially important:

  • Has a higher temperature than normal

  • Has a rash

  • Is vomiting a lot or has green vomits

  • Is unable to poo or has diarrhoea

  • Is not feeding or has not been waking for feeds

  • Has difficulty breathing or goes blue/purple whilst crying

What causes colic?

The truth is, doctors still don’t really know, despite years and years of research. And that can make things difficult when trying to manage the symptoms. Lots of possible causes for colic have been suggested, with varying amounts of, and strength of evidence for all ideas. They include:

  • Increased gut movement and pain signalling

  • An abnormal balance of gut bacteria

  • The severe end the spectrum of normal baby crying

  • Influence of external factors

What can I do to ease my baby's colic?

As mentioned earlier, managing colic can be difficult as there is no definitive medical treatment. However some of the suggestions below may be useful for you and your baby:

  • Sometimes holding your baby through the crying episode can be helpful, although you should never feel pressured to do this continually. If you need a break it can be good for you and your baby to lay them down for a little while, and will help keep you calmer.

  • Using a sling may also be helpful as your baby is closer to you, whilst ensuring your arms don’t get tired.

  • Some babies may respond to gentle movement including pushing in a pram or rocking in a crib.

  • An upright position for feeding, and practising good winding techniques during and after feeding may also help.

  • White noise or background noise can sometimes be useful. You can get mobile phone apps for white noise, whilst other noises suggested are natural sounds, music or even your singing.

  • If your baby enjoys bath time, then a warm bath with water above the level of their tummy may be useful.

  • Continue either breast feeding as you normally would, or bottle feeding with the same formula, unless recommended to change by a health professional

Solutions not recommended by the NHS due to a significant lack of and/or variability in evidence include:

  • Cranial Osteopathy

  • Spinal manipulation

  • Probiotics

  • Over the counter colic relief drops

  • Herbal supplements

  • Making changes to your diet if breast feeding, or your babies milk if formula feeding

  • Specific bottles and teats advertised for colic

Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with a baby who has colic can be difficult, but try to rememeber that these episodes won't last forever. And support yourself and any significant others by talking through your frustrations or worries. Remember to take up offers of help from family members or friends, and try to use any moments of respite to look after yourself, your baby needs you to be healthy also. 

Your health visitor and GP will be able to support you through this and may be able to signpost you towards local support groups. There are also national support groups or online resources which you might find useful for additional advice or talking through your worries.

Cry-sis is a fantastic support resource for parents with crying and sleepless babies, so if you're struggling, get them on 0845 122 8669 or via the Cry-sis website. The NHS website also has further information on colic.


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© 2021 Mother Bluffer. For parents who wing it