What causes baby colic and how to deal with it
Colic is a familiar term, but it’s often vaguely defined. So, you’re not alone if you’ve been left wondering, ‘what is colic?’ in babies, colic refers to long periods of crying for no apparent reason. It isn’t dangerous, but it can be distressing to see your child in obvious discomfort. Colic is something that just happens; you haven’t done anything wrong.
The good news is that colic will eventually go away on its own, although there are ways to comfort your baby in the meantime. Here you’ll find information about colic to help put your mind at rest, but as always, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your doctor if you have questions.
What causes baby colic?
How to know if your baby has colic
There are a number of symptoms of baby colic, but the clearest sign your baby might be suffering from colic is continuous, high-pitched crying for no obvious reason. This can broadly be categorized by the rule of 3s:
- Crying for more than 3 hours at a time
- Crying for 3 times a week
- Crying for up to 3 months of age
Other signs of colic in babies include:
- More frequent crying in the late afternoon or evening, sometimes after feeding
- Your baby’s face goes red or your baby’s eyes roll up
- Your baby draws their legs to their tummy
- Your baby’s tummy feels hard
- Your baby lifts their head or legs and passes gas
- Your baby’s fists become clenched.
Choosing the right bottle for your baby
Colic will usually subside naturally within three months, but we know it can feel like longer when you’ve got a crying baby on your hands. So here are some things you can try to ease your baby’s discomfort in the meantime.
- Create a longer window between feeds. If you’re currently feeding every one to two hours, try out a routine of feeding every three to four hours and see if it makes a difference.
- Breastfeeding diet. If you’re dealing with colic in breastfed babies, check your diet to see if you’re eating a lot of the following foods: broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, cabbage, chocolate, cow’s milk, onions, citrus fruits or tomatoes. These can all cause babies to be gassy or colicky. If you suspect a certain food, cut it out for a couple of days to see if there’s an effect.
Remember, if you are considering cutting out any food groups entirely for the long term, such as dairy, it’s a good idea to get advice from a healthcare professional.
- Burping technique. Try to get the gas out of your baby’s tummy before it has a chance to move through to the bowel. If your baby is a quick feeder you may need to burp more frequently. Hold your baby upright, either over your shoulder or sitting in your lap. Try firmly patting your baby’s back to encourage the bubbles up and out.
- A gentle tummy massage can help relax your baby’s tense muscles (and can be especially effective after a warm bath).
- Gripe water. Gripe water is an old-fashioned remedy. While there is no hard evidence that it works, some moms do use it when their baby has a problem. It warms and relaxes the tummy and is said to have an antacid effect too. Gripe water is usually recommended for babies older than one month, but always remember to check the label before use.
- A more comfortable position. Certain positions are soothing for baby colic, especially on the tummy. Lay your baby face down over your arm, head resting in the crook of your elbow, with your hand between your baby’s legs. You could also try lying your little one face down on your lap, head turned to the side, while gently moving your own legs side to side. Do make sure your baby is lying face-up once asleep.
- A swing or vibrating chair can be a lifesaver if your baby is very unhappy in the evenings.
- Anti-colic bottles. If you’re bottle feeding, either fully or just occasionally, choose a bottle with an anti-colic system, which has been clinically proven to reduce baby colic and its symptoms. Be sure to have the correct flow for your baby, and to always have the teat full of milk so your baby isn’t sucking in air.
- Pacifiers. Try a pacifier when your baby is difficult to comfort. If your baby does have pain, suckling will help.
Baby colic can be unsettling for both baby and parent, but the main thing to remember is that you’re doing great. These tips are designed to help put your mind at rest and give you some options for soothing your baby, but please be aware that the information does not substitute professional medical advice.
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