Colic: What Are The Symptoms And Causes And What Can You Do?

14/08/2014 16:49 | Updated 22 May 2015

Colic, baby crying

So, you had been enjoying your gorgeous, contented newborn for two or three weeks – it was all going swimmingly. And then, bam! Something changed: every evening that happy, squidgy little thing becomes a ball of fury, inconsolable, screaming for three or four hours, for seemingly no reason, nothing seems to work, you don't know what to do – and you are at your wits' end...

It might just be the highly mysterious condition known as colic.

Now, there's a question. Probably the most frequently debated baby-related subject of all time, colic has had people (parents, carers, medical practitioners, alternative therapists) scratching their heads for half a century.

Babies with colic are diagnosed by their inconsolable crying, which will last for at least three hours per day, at least three days per week (of course, some cry for longer and for seven days a week). Often, but not always, the crying will begin in the late afternoon or early evening.


With approximately one in five babies suffering from it, colic affects both genders, and both breast and bottle-fed infants, in equal measure.


They will fuss, fidget, pound their little fists, pull their knees up to their chests and scream blue murder.

Colic makes for neither happy babies nor happy parents.

The truth is, although there are many possible reasons why your baby might suffer from colic, there is no definitive answer. It could be that they are intolerant of lactose (a protein in cow's milk), coming either from their formula or through breast milk.

Another suggestion is that colicky babies are simply prone to painful wind, indigestion and constipation, while some people believe it is the result of particularly sensitive babies becoming over-stimulated by their environment.

Danish researchers recently suggested a link with smoking – a study of 1,800 mothers showed that those who smoked more than 15 cigarettes per day were twice as likely to have a colicky baby. What their research does not explain, though, is why some of the babies of non-smoking mothers also developed it.

So, the causes are a mystery to an extent. But there are two very important things to know: firstly, even though your baby seems so very upset during those colicky bouts, they are not suffering any long-term damage and should continue to feed well and grow normally; secondly, even though it seems like an endless battle, it won't last long.


Most babies grow out of their colic by the time they are three or four months old, while the remainder will be free of it by six months.


What can I do?

First of all, take heart because lots of parents go through this. If you were in an antenatal group of 10, the chances are at least one other person is going through the same thing, so talk to other parents about your experiences.

Such is the anguish colic causes for some parents (it can be hard to hear your baby crying for a few minutes, let alone a few hours), they find themselves feeling unable to cope. Ask for help – friends, family, a neighbour.

If you need to, take five minutes away from your colicky baby, and do so without guilt – put them in their crib where they are safe and take some deep breaths, count to 10, re-group.

The charity cry-sis is there to help parents through tough times with their demanding babies and offer useful tips for calming and settling. You can call their helpline on 08541 228669.

In terms of caring for your little one, there are some things you can try. If you think your baby has colic, first go to your GP so they can rule out other possible causes.

Then it will probably be a case of trial and error. If you are breastfeeding, you might try sensibly cutting out certain foods that could give your baby more wind than normal (these include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, spices and beans).

If your baby's colic is caused by an intolerance to lactose, that could be helped by either switching to a hypoallergenic formula, or by mum cutting dairy out of her diet. Try it for a week or so and see if it makes any difference.

You could also ask your pharmacist to recommend some lactase drops to be taken before feeds, or try gripe water which could help to alleviate trapped wind. Be sure to burp your baby after every feed too.

During a colicky bout, try to stay calm and understand what your baby is telling you they want (which, unfortunately, might vary day to day!). A quiet, dark room? To be held tightly? To be rocked or kept in motion? To have their tummy massaged? Some parents find a warm bath soothes and calms their baby, for others it's switching on the hoover or the washing machine.


Colic is tough, it's hard work for everyone – just remember, with each passing day you go through all this, you get a day closer to the colic being gone.


What else could it be?

If your baby is squirming and crying regularly after feeds (as well as bringing up some of their milk) – but not at any one particular time of day – they might be suffering from reflux or wind.

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