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Dr Kandi discusses infantile colic

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 wonder, as you try every technique under the sun to soothe your crying newborn, why you haven’t heard of this word much before, why someone didn’t explain exactly what to do. But you’re here now and are not alone: 1 in 10 babies suffer from colic. As a doctor and a mother, I’ll talk you through what it is, what you can do about it, and how long it will last.

What is colic?

Colic is the word used 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 temporary distress. Another theory is that it occurs with an overactive supply and letdown when breastfeeding.

How long does colic 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, for at least three weeks. Most babies suffer from colic towards 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.

What makes it better?

The main thing you can do is to comfort or distract your baby. It might not always work, but it’s worth a try.

Holding your baby close to your chest or skin-to-skin may be effective. Other helpful techniques include massaging their tummy in clockwise circular motions, gently rocking them over your shoulder, which puts gentle pressure on their tummies, rocking them in their crib or a seat, or taking them for a walk in their stroller. Consider putting white noise on in the background to calm and distract them and setting them up with a warm bath.

Make sure your baby has a good suck when feeding to prevent them from swallowing air, which feels uncomfortable and ensure to burp them after feeds. 

There are no medications that the doctor can prescribe that are known to help with colic. Several products from pharmacies may help, for example, gripe water (from 2 weeks old) or Infacol. You may also find probiotic and herbal supplements worthwhile.

I’m breastfeeding, should I change my diet?

This is a very personal matter and entirely up to you. Some moms reason that colic will resolve as the baby grows. In a world where you are already juggling many tasks, battling tiredness, and feeling a bit drained and nutritionally depleted, it may not be worth drastically changing your own diet. 

The foods we eat can pass into our baby via breast milk, which may trigger 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 have also been implicated.

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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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