What is colic?
Colic has been defined as “repeated exposures of excessive and inconsolable crying in an otherwise healthy infant”.
However, another useful definition of colic is “fussing or crying for more than 3 hours per day, more than 3 days per week, for more than 3 week”.
It is believed that around 5-20% of young babies have some form of colic in the UK, but any specific cause is unknown.
For many parents having a colicky baby can be a really difficult time but it’s important to realise that most of the time, a baby with colic will get better on their own. Colic usually passes naturally after around 3-4 months of age, but there are some things you can do which may help sooth your baby in the meantime.
Symptoms of colic can be fairly varied, but it is usually recognised by periods of baby’s uncontrollable crying (often during the afternoon hours) which lasts for longer than a few hours, happens regularly and is accompanied by baby’s knees raised towards their abdomen, an arched back or clenched fists.
What causes colic?
The causes of colic are unknown, which is why it’s often hard to treat or diagnose. However there are some suggestions of potential contributions to the symptoms of infant colic, including:
- Trapped wind
- Gut sensitivity
- Changes in gut microbiota
- Cow’s milk protein allergy
- Gastro-osephegal reflux disease
- It’s also been suggested that colic may simply be an extreme end of normal crying in babies.
Due to the fact that there is no defined cause of infant colic, there is also no specific treatment. It’s really important to recognise that, although stressful, 90% of colic infants have their symptoms resolved by 4 months. Therefore the best treatment for a colic baby is time.
However, there are some other tips which can help to sooth your baby in the meantime as well as some changes you can make which may help.
- Ensure your baby is sitting upright during feeding
- Try using gentle motion to rock your baby
- Ensure you wind your baby after each feed
- Try using white noise such as running water, humming or “shhhhing”
- Try out a baby massage or lightly massaging baby’s tummy
- Try offering baby a warm bath
- Check baby is using an appropriate teat if they are bottle feeding – too slow movement of milk may cause baby to swallow too much air.
- If breastfeeding avoid having too much caffeine or spicy foods
Support for parents with colic babies:
If you’re still concerned about infant colic, it might be wise to talk to your GP or, in first instant, your Health Visitor to check if there could be any underlying causes.
There are some treatment options that your Health Visitor or GP might suggest such as Simeticone drops (e.g. Infacol) or lactase drops (e.g. Colief). Please be aware there is no evidence that gripe water can help so avoid giving this to your baby unless your GP recommends it.
With any of these ‘treatments’, it’s recommended that you trial them on their own for around a week, and if the symptoms do not lessen, stop offering the treatments to baby.
Additionally, for a mum who is breastfeeding it might mean trialling the removal of certain foods from mum’s diet such as dairy foods, or foods which may cause gas such as cauliflower, garlic, onion, cabbage or beans. If, after two weeks, the symptoms do not get better for baby, mum can try adding these foods back into her diet. If symptoms do improve once mum has removed some of these foods, it’s important to visit your GP to make sure you’re not at risk of becoming deficient of any nutrients e.g. calcium from the removal of dairy foods.
It’s also a good idea for breastfeeding mothers to take a breastfeeding supplement containing vitamin D.
For further support an organisation called CRY-SIS is here to help. They are open on their phone lines from 9am-10am every day and have a useful website with more information on excessive crying in babies: www.cry-sis.org.uk
All information taken from the following references:
If you would like to find out more tips and advice on subjects such as infant colic and other child related nutrition, then please take a look at the section on my blog about children. Here’s more info about infant nutrition as well.