Colic is a confusing condition for parents. Because the symptoms are similar to a myriad of other concerns, it can be hard to know when your baby has colic and when it’s something more serious. Here’s what you need to know.
What is colic?
Colic happens when your baby cries for over 3 hours per day, more than 3 times per week, for more than 3 weeks. A colicky baby is usually healthy, but cries a lot more than it should. Researchers believe that 1 in every 10 babies has colic. Colic usually develops within the first few weeks of your baby’s life.
Colic can be distressing for you and your baby. It can be hard to cope with a new baby at the best of times, so when your baby is constantly upset, it can cause you undue stress.
Symptoms of colic
The general signs of colic are similar to the symptoms of other conditions, so do pay close attention to the specifics. Take note if your baby:
- Cries at the same period of time every day, often in the evening
- Cries even when not hungry, or in need of anything
- Cries in a high-pitched, screaming manner
- Cries more intensely even after being soothed
- Does not appear to have anything wrong
If your baby stops crying once it gets fed, changed, or soothed, that is not colic. It’s normal for babies to cry when they need something.
However, take your baby to the doctor or A&E should you notice the following symptoms:
Causes of colic
No one knows the exact cause of colic. Doctors believe certain things may trigger colic in babies, such as:
- Acid reflux, or silent reflux, where stomach acid travels up into the oesophagus
- Hormone imbalances
- Inefficient burping after meals
- Milk intolerances
- Normal growth and development in the digestive system
- Painful gas
- Premature birth
However, if it’s not colic, the condition could be more serious. Infection and illness can make your baby very distressed. Heart or brain issues, external and internal injuries can also present like colic. As a general rule, doctors recommend taking young babies to the doctor if parents are concerned that something isn’t right. As babies can’t communicate, it’s better to be safe. An illness that is not usually a concern for adults can often be dangerous for infants.
If your baby has colic and your doctor has ruled out any underlying problems, there are some things you can try to comfort them when they become colicky.
- Give your baby an infant massage to soothe it.
- If your baby is bottle fed, try a different teat. Some generic teats allow too much air in while your baby feeds, which can cause a build-up of painful gas. Find a teat designed to minimise this.
- Keep your baby upright and burp it properly after every feed.
- Laying your baby on its tummy may also help ease trapped gas.
- Review what you feed your baby and try alternatives. If your baby is fussy with certain types of milk or formula, you could change it up and see if it helps.
- Rub your baby’s belly and circle their legs to try to release any trapped gas.
- Spend more time holding your baby close, and try skin-to-skin contact.
- Take your baby out of the house for some fresh air.
- Try using sound therapy to soothe it, such as white noise or gentle lullaby music.
What to avoid
Some people might suggest remedies for colic that pose risks to your baby. You should avoid:
- Adding rice cereal to a bottle of milk. This can pose a choking hazard, and there is no scientific proof that it will help with colic.
- Gas drops or other medications. Don’t give your baby any medicine unless your doctor has given you the all clear.
- Gripe water. Gripe water is a liquid made with herbs to help soothe your baby. However, there are no regulations on gripe water and it’s hard to know exactly what you’re getting. It’s best to steer clear.
- Strict diets. It’s important for your baby to have milk or formula for the first few months of life, and then introduce a balanced solid diet with plenty of fresh food. Restricting certain foods from your baby’s diet could affect their development.
Dealing with colic
Babies will outgrow colic, and they won’t scream forever. The challenging times will eventually pass. If you have any concerns at all, take your baby to see a doctor or paediatrician. They will be able to rule out any underlying illness and give you advice on how to manage colic.
Article reviewed by Dr Othello Dave, deputy medical director at Parkway Hospitals
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