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Baby colic

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 4 minutes read
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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 are not alone: 1 in 5 babies suffer from colic.

Colic is the word used for when babies cry for a consistent period of time without any obvious cause. It’s poorly 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 letdown of the milk supply 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 the 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 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 gas.

I’m breastfeeding, should I change my diet?

This is a very personal matter and entirely up to you. Some moms reason that as colic will resolve as the 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 for some reason that this triggers intolerance to these foods. With this theory, it makes sense for some moms to adjust their diet to see if this makes a 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.

Colic relief products available that can help

Various products are available that can help relieve newborn colic. Simethicone (Infants' Mylicon) are specially manufactured drops that can relieve wind and griping pain while also reducing the severity of colic-related crying episodes.

Gripe Water is a traditional medicine made with natural organic ingredients. These ingredients relax the stomach, release trapped air bubbles, and neutralize 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. Use a product specifically formulated for infants.

Colic bottles are available that have anti-colic valves that reduce burping and gas.

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 underestimate 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 their 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. These are all concerning signs if they are not eating or not putting on weight. It would be important for the doctor to rule out other areas of concern, such as infection or illness.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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