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Baby colic

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger HendersonReviewed on 13.10.2023 | 5 minutes read

Colic - a small word with a big impact! You may be wondering, as you try every technique under the sun to soothe your crying newborn, why you haven’t heard of it before now, and why someone didn’t explain exactly what to do.

But you’re here now and you are not alone: 1 in 5 babies suffer from colic. With qualifications of being a GP and a mother of two, I’ll talk you through what it is, what you can do about it and how long it will last.

Colic is the word used for when babies cry for a consistent period of time without any obvious cause. It’s not well understood and there’s no consensus on the cause.

One theory is that a baby’s gut is underdeveloped early on, making it harder for them to digest food and causing some temporary distress. Another theory is that it occurs with an overactive supply and let down when breastfeeding.

How long does it last?

Colic typically starts in the first six weeks of life. It fits the diagnosis if a baby cries for more than three hours a day, for at least three days a week. Most babies suffer from colic in the evening, but it can happen at any time of day.

Colic usually goes away by itself after three to four months. But, of course, every baby is different: you may feel relieved if it’s short-lived, or you could be unlucky and it lasts for six months or so.

Baby colic - practical tips

Baby colic can cause stress on both mother and child. There are a number of things you can try with your baby to calm them down and reduce colic:

  • Hold or cuddle the baby when crying, or utilize a sling to keep it close to you.
  • You can also lay your baby in your tummy across your stomach or lap and gently pat its back. This may help relieve the discomfort of trapped wind.
  • Swaddle your baby in a soft blanket as this provides comfort..
  • Talk softly to your baby, play some lullabies or turn on the radio or TV for white noise when she is awake.
  • Rocking your baby in your arms or swaying side to side, using swings, cots, or prams will create movements.
  • Also, giving your child a warm bath after feeding might help relax them.
  • Feed your baby as usual, but ensure they are upright while burping him after every meal so they do not swallow air, causing bloating.
  • If you are bottle-feeding, you may want to try a different formula, which may be easier for your baby to digest. These include formulas specifically designed to help with colic and gas, such as hydrolyzed or hypoallergenic formula, goat milk formula for colic, soy-based infant formula, or a lactose-free formula.
  • Changing the teat flow of the bottle to improve flow can also help since your baby may be sucking in more air leading to trapped wind.

I’m breastfeeding, should I change my diet?

This is a very personal matter, and entirely up to you. Some mums reason that as colic will resolve as baby grows, and in a world where you may be battling tiredness and feeling drained and lacking good nutrition, that it may not be worth drastically changing their own diet.

There is evidence that the foods we eat can pass into our baby via our breast milk, and some reason that this triggers intolerance to these foods. With this theory, it makes sense to some mums to adjust their diet to see if this makes the difference. The most likely offenders are dairy products, but other foods like broccoli, garlic, spicy foods, caffeine, nuts, beans and shellfish can also be implicated.

If you are breastfeeding, you may want to avoid some other foods that may irritate your baby’s stomach, such as cow’s milk, high-sugar foods, or spicy foods.

Pharmacist recommended products

Colic relief products available that can help

Various products are available that can help relieve newborn colic. Simeticone (Infacol Colic Relief Drops) and dimeticone (Dentinox Infant Colic Drops) are specially manufactured drops that can assist relieve wind and griping pain while also reducing the severity of colic-related crying episodes.

Woodwards Gripe Water, Dual Action Relief of Wind and Gripe is a traditional medicine that includes dill oil and sodium hydrogen carbonate. Dill oil warms and relaxes the stomach, releasing trapped air bubbles. Sodium hydrogen carbonate neutralises acid in the baby's stomach. The end effect is that the baby is able to burp up extra gas.

Because a baby's digestive tract is still developing, it may not be producing enough lactase enzyme, which aids in the breakdown of lactose (a natural sugar present in milk and dairy), causing gas and bloating associated with this lactose intolerance. Lactase enzyme drops can be added to feeds or given to the baby. Some of these products include Colief Infant Drops and Care Co-Lactase Infant Drops.

The Tommy Tippee Advanced Colic Bottle, for example, has anti-colic valves that direct aid away from the milk, reducing wind.

When should I worry? 

Colic is never anything to worry about as it doesn’t cause any immediate or lasting problems for your child. This is not to undermine how frustrating and tiring it can be for parents, though. As the crying goes on and sounds so urgent and distressed, it’s understandable to seek reassurance that nothing is seriously wrong. If you are concerned and feel that you have exhausted all of the obvious settling techniques, then it may be helpful to turn to your doctor or health visitor for further advice.

If your baby's cry sounds different, or they have any other signs of being unwell and they are crying for extended periods of time – it is important to get them seen by a doctor. If they are not eating or not putting on weight, these are all concerning signs. It would be important for the doctor to rule out other areas of concern, such as infection or illness.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 13.10.2023
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