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Baby colic - practical tips

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 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 are not alone: 1 in 5 babies suffer from colic.

What is colic and how long does it last?

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.

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.

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. 

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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