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Colic

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read
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Colic is a prevalent condition in babies, and symptoms vary, but there's usually fussing and crying for a prolonged period of time. Some babies can look like they are in intense pain and either scream inconsolably or fuss and whimper constantly. Some babies can sometimes clench their fists, arch their backs, and even go red in the face.

Prolonged crying means that a baby can swallow air, usually harmless. If this is the case, passing gas can sometimes provide them with some relief.

What causes colic?

The exact cause is not known. Some possible causes that have been considered are related to early changes in the baby's digestive tract. Research has looked into other areas, but there's no definitive answer. Areas of interest include the naturally occurring bacteria in the gut (microbiome and microflora), increased movement of the bowel, poor feeding techniques, overstimulation, and maternal smoking.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom of colic is inconsolable crying that does not stop no matter what parents do. Another common symptom is an obviously upset and irritable baby, sometimes with a tense or bloated abdomen. Your child may draw up their legs, arch their back, clench fingers, or exhibit other signs of being uncomfortable. Symptoms occur more often at night but can happen at any time during the day. Relief is occasionally noted after babies pass gas or stool.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

The success in managing colic symptoms varies from baby to baby. It is important that you are aware of that before you begin, as parents can get very fatigued trying to relieve their baby's symptoms.

There are a variety of soothing strategies that you can try. Your baby may be soothed by rubbing their tummy, giving them a massage, a warm bath, or using a warm washcloth to massage their tummy. Walking around, swaddling, rocking, or taking your child for a stroll or drive can also help but can be very hard to keep up with. Playing white noise, using a vacuum, playing peaceful lullabies, or singing songs can be very soothing.

It is advised to feed your baby in a way you ensure they are not taking in extra air. Ensuring after feeds that baby is kept upright and burped well is helpful. If breastfeeding, you may consider changing your diet, as some foods may upset the baby as they pass through the mother's milk. If the baby is formula fed, it might also be worthwhile trying an alternative formula.

Colic can be very hard on parents, especially if this is your first child. You must set your expectations correctly. With time, colic usually goes away on its own, so remember that it is only temporary. Try not to be too hard on yourself and ensure you get proper rest by taking turns with a partner, family member, or friend. Talk to other moms, and hopefully, you'll find a good support network. If you have any concerns about your or your baby's well-being, then speak to your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

One of the common concerns for parents is when should they be worried. What are the signs to watch out for that don’t fit with simple colic? Symptoms that indicate you should speak with your doctor are if the child has a fever, totally refuses to feed, is vomiting, is not gaining weight, has a change in bowel habits (more loose or constipated than normal), or is not their normal self. A quiet, floppy, unengaged, unwell-looking baby is not normal, and advice should be sought urgently from your doctor.

If you are unsure whether your baby is experiencing colic, a sensible next step would be a routine appointment with your doctor. The doctor will review your baby’s history and examine your baby to make sure that there are no other concerning causes. If needed, your doctor may perform some tests to rule out any other possible causes of the symptoms. If the most likely cause is colic, subsequent colic episodes can be managed at home.

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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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