We are all familiar with the word colic and often the fear and anxiety that this
can cause to parents of newborn babies, but what exactly is colic and what can you do to help? Infantile colic has been around for a long time. In
1954, Dr. Morris Wessel, a well-known American pediatrician, defined an infant with colic as "one who,
otherwise healthy and well-fed, had paroxysms of irritability, fussing, or crying lasting for a total of three
hours a day and occurring on more than three days in any one week for a period of three weeks." Most infants will cry for up to two or three hours per day
and this is normal as the crying is spread out over the 24 hour period. A colicky baby however, will cry for 1 to 3 hours at a time
for 3 days or more per week.
Typically, when a baby is
crying because of colic, their face will go red or flushed, their tummy may be distended, they will move their
legs alternating between flexed and straight and their fists are clenched. The crying can be quite strong and distressing for the
parents. Typically, colic usually occurs between 2
to 3 weeks old and can last until 3 months or more. It is estimated that over 25% of babies suffer from
Infants with colic are generally healthy, have a strong sucking reflex and the problem does not
indicate ill health. It is important however to
rule out other possible causes of your baby’s crying by visiting your GP. While there is no test that can be performed to confirm
colic, your doctor can give your baby a full check up to ensure that there is no other cause of your baby’s
crying such as a bladder infection, hernia, ear
infection etc. If the GP gives your baby a
clean bill of health, then this can be of enormous help to you in knowing that, although it can be
distressing to hear your baby cry, it is ‘only’ colic. Your doctor may prescribe medication or drops to ease your
baby’s symptoms or recommend remedies available at your pharmacy. Note however, that if you baby’s colic ever seems to
suddenly change you should consider revisiting your GP to be sure that there are now new causes for the
Once other problems have been ruled out and you know that your baby is suffering from colic,
there are several actions you can take to help to alleviate the problem.
- Avoid overfeeding your baby – if they are crying because of colic, giving them more food may
exacerbate the problem. If you think that
your baby may be thirsty, offer boiled and cooled water instead.
- If you are breastfeeding, try to illuminate certain foods from your diet such as caffeine,
onions, cabbage, beans, broccoli and other gas-producing foods.
- If you are using formula feed, consider changing the type of teat you are using. There are many teats that help to reduce wind and gas
in a baby’s tummy and therefore may help to ease colic.
- If you are not already using a soother, it may help to introduce one to your baby to help
with sucking action and to soothe and comfort your baby. As with teats, try to ensure a soother shape that
assists with colic. Be careful however NOT
to introduce a soother to your baby if you are breastfeeding until your breastfeeding has been well
- Try to gently wind or burp your baby by rubbing their back and/or tummy
- Walking and rocking your baby in your arms can provide comfort and relief
- Try putting your baby in a swinging or vibrating seat – the motion can help to soothe your
- Similarly, put your baby in their car seat and go for a drive or place your baby in their
buggy or pram and go for a walk. The
movement can help to soothe.
- Swaddle your baby. The snug
feeling that a baby can get from swaddling can help to recreate the feeling of containment that your baby
felt in the womb. If you do not know how to
swaddle, ask your public health nurse or GP.
- Place your baby near to ‘white noise’. White noise could be the sound of a dishwasher, vacuum
cleaner, tumble dryer, fan etc. It is
generally the noise for a common household appliance but can soothe the baby as it is similar to the
noises heard in the womb. Never leave your
baby alone with an appliance that could be a source of danger. When you have tried white noise and feel that this
helps your baby, check the internet for downloadable white noise sounds or CDs that you can
- Provide a relaxing environment for your baby. Avoid loud noises or large groups of
people. Consider dimming the amount of
light in the room and play gentle music or ‘white noise’ sounds.
If it all gets too much, take a break! Ask a relative or friend to mind the baby for a while and
go out for a walk, listen to music, go for a drive or whatever helps to relax you! Sometimes a short break can do you the world of