What is colic?
Colic is a term used to describe when a baby cries excessively and frequently. Colic happens in an otherwise healthy baby who is feeding well, putting on (not losing) weight and is happy in between the bouts of excessive crying. Despite being a common condition, affecting around one in five babies, and despite a lot of research being done, no one really knows why colic happens.
Colic normally starts when a baby is between two and four weeks old. It disappears in most babies around three or four months; it should have stopped completely by six months. This sounds like a relatively short amount of time, but those weeks of trying to cope with an inconsolable baby can seem like an eternity. It is very stressful, upsetting and tiring when all you want to do is soothe your baby, but very little seems to work. Above all, it is important to know that colic is not due to anything you have done.
Does my baby have colic?
If your baby has colic, he or she may have a number of intense crying outbursts a day, a few times a week. Babies with colic can appear to be in distress, which is distressing for you too. Be reassured though that colic does not harm your baby and there is no medical evidence that there are any long-term effects on your baby's health.
A baby with colic will scream, they will draw their legs up and everything you try to do to calm them may not help. Colic often starts in the early evening or late afternoon and goes on for a number of hours.
Signs your baby may have colic:
Signs your baby might not have colic:
Your baby does not settle after his late afternoon or evening feed - he starts screaming as soon as he finishes. Or he may drop off to sleep only to wake screaming within half an hour.||Your baby does not settle after his late afternoon or evening feed - he cries and grumbles for quite a long time but eventually falls asleep. If he does not scream this is not colic. |
|She screams (it is more than a cry) and draws her legs up to her tummy.||She cries hard, but it is a cry. She may draw her legs up to her tummy. |
|Everything you try helps, but only for a very short time. He may suck on a dummy, your nipple or the teat of a bottle, but then will start screaming once again. He may burp and then scream again. Rubbing his belly, or rocking him back and forth may help, but only for a minute or so.||Eventually you find something that works so the screaming stops within half an hour. If a dummy or a feed works, then your baby wanted to suck or was hungry. If a burp stops the crying, your baby had wind. If a belly rub or rocking works maybe your baby wanted your company and/or needed help to relax and go to sleep.|
|When something works for just a very short time and your baby stops crying, she continues to shake and sob before it starts again.||When something works within half an hour, your baby is calm.|
|Your baby's screaming lasts for at least an hour, and maybe for as long as four hours. But once the screaming stops it is finished for the rest of the night.||Your baby will stop crying within half an hour and he is happy or falls asleep for at least 15 minutes before his crying starts again. |
|The screaming happens at around the same time every day, but then does not happen again at any other point in a 24-hour period.||Your baby's crying can happen at any time of day or night. These crying periods may be awful to cope with but they are not colic. |
I think my baby may have colic
If you suspect colic, it is best to contact your GP for advice when your baby's colicky crying starts. Your GP can confirm that this is colic and importantly rule out any other conditions that may be causing your baby's distress.
Is there a cure for colic?
Unfortunately there is no cure for colic. However, there are various techniques (although none are medically proven) that many people have tried and have found they helped some babies with colic. So maybe give some of these a go:
- If you are Bottle Feeding, keep your baby upright and tilt the bottle so that there is no air in the teat. This makes sure your baby doesn't gulp down air at the same time as swallowing her milk. You could also try changing the bottle or teat to see if that suits your baby better.
- Make sure you burp your baby after every feed. Read Winding Your Baby for information on the ways to do this. You could also try giving your baby an over-the-counter remedy like Gripe Water or Infacol to help him to burp. Always read the instructions.
- If you are Breastfeeding, it might be worth going to a breastfeeding clinic where a breastfeeding counsellor can double check your baby is in the best position and latching-on correctly when feeding. Breastfeeding advice is to feed from one breast until your baby comes off the nipple of her own accord and then offer her the other breast. Advice is also to use alternate breasts each time you feed. This way your baby gets the watery, thirst-quenching foremilk, followed by the creamier, higher fat hind-milk at each feed, to leave your baby satisfied every time.
Caring physical contact
- Whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding, have some skin-to-skin time with your baby before a feed to help calm your baby down and make the feed a comforting experience.
- Have lots of cuddles and relaxing time together whenever possible. Swaddling can help to settle some babies.
- When your baby cries, try holding him in lots of different positions to see which one works best. Some babies like to be held upright, looking over your shoulder. Some babies respond well to lying on their backs while you hold their feet and move their legs, bending their knees, up towards their tummies.
- One really effective way to relieve your baby's crying is the "tiger in the tree" hold:
- Pick up your baby with his back to you and your left arm along his front.
- Bring your right hand between his knees and place the palm of your right hand flat on his tummy.
- Turn him over onto your hands; he will be face down along your left arm and you will be holding him at your waist height.
- You can use your right hand to gently massage his tummy in a clockwise direction to help get rid of any wind.
- You'll find this hold works well if you are stood up or walking around, but for some unknown reason it doesn't work when you sit down!
- Give your baby a warm bath
Noise and movement
- Some colicky babies are soothed by the white noise of the washing machine, a hairdryer or vacuum cleaner. You can even download white noise off of the internet, or purchase it on CD.
- Some babies will calm down when in the car or when in their pram while you go out for a walk - you could try going for a power walk with your headphones on to cope with the crying.
Looking after a baby with colic
Trying to look after a baby with colic makes for a really tough first few months. Not being able to console your baby can be totally heartbreaking and it is no surprise if you end up in tears and feeling exhausted.
There will be some occasions when no matter what you try nothing seems to work. It is natural that you will be frazzled and you may feel frustrated and at breaking point. When this happens, put your baby somewhere safe, for example in his moses basket or cot, and leave the room. Count slowly to ten, take some deep breaths or set the kitchen timer for a couple of minutes to make sure you get some time out to regain your composure. If you are struggling to cope make sure you speak to someone about it.
Above all, remember that:
- Colic can be a living hell, but it will not last forever. Even though you are told colic shouldn't last more than a few months it can feel like an eternity. Colic should stop when your baby is around 12 weeks old.
- Colic is not your fault. The good news is that colic is not an illness, it does not harm your baby and it does not happen as a result of anything you are (or are not) doing.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help. You will be worn out and it is really important that you look after yourself, as well as your baby. Ask your family and friends if they can come and lend you a pair of hands so that you can take a break. When your baby sleeps, lie down, rest and try to sleep too.
- If you are finding it hard to cope, seek the advice of your health visitor or GP, or give Cry-sis a call on 08451 228 669 (lines open 7 days a week 9am - 10pm.)