With September 26th being the nation’s most popular birthday, we look into one of the most common problems that affects up to 1 in 5 newborn babies – colic.
Colic can begin when your baby is just a few weeks old. A colicky baby may cry long and hard for no apparent reason and may appear to be in pain. This is distressing for both parents and babies, but knowing a bit about the condition, what to expect and some techniques to soothe your little one can help.
What does colic look like?
A colicky baby is one who has bouts of crying, often in the late afternoon or evening, that can last a few hours. Your baby may squirm, arch their back, draw their knees up and become red in the face when they cry. In between episodes they are entirely content, feed well and act like any other newborn.
You are not alone.
One in five babies are thought to suffer with colic, and therefore one in five mothers out there are going through the same thing as you. It can help to remember this.
It is not your fault.
There is nothing you could have done to prevent your baby getting colic. It is not a result of something you have done wrong. The only exception to this is if you smoke – babies of mothers who smoke are more likely to be colicky so consider getting some support from your GP or from the NHS Smokefree National Helpline (0300 123 1044) if you are a smoker.
Colic is not dangerous.
There is no lasting damage as a result of colic, and once your baby has grown out of it they will be as happy and healthy as any other baby. However, if your baby is vomiting more than you would expect, is not putting on weight or if you are simply worried about them then please visit your GP. They can check your baby over and reassure you or pick up any other health conditions that may be present.
Look after yourself.
One of the most important things a colicky baby needs is a calm and reassuring parent. It is much easier to soothe your little one if you are fed, rested and feel supported by those around you. Take any offers of help you can, if possible sleep when your baby sleeps and if you feel wound up and need to have some “time out” put your baby down in a safe place such as a cot or pram. There is a list of support services at the end of this page which you may find helpful. Caring for a baby with colic can make even the most experienced of parents feel desperate. Be kind to yourself and ask for help if you are struggling.
Soothe your baby.
While there is no cure for colic, there are some techniques that have been shown to help calm a distressed baby.
- Remain calm, talk to your baby in a low voice and let them know you are there.
- Keep your baby close to your body, either in your arms or in a sling.
- Gentle motion may help – either gently rocking in your arms, a pram or a crib.
- Try some white noise (available via applications on a smart phone or tablet) to help distract and soothe your baby.
- Bathe your baby in warm water during an episode.
- Gently massage their tummies in a clockwise circular motion.
- There is no evidence to suggest that bottle-fed babies are any more prone to colic than breast-fed ones. Carry on feeding your baby as usual, just make sure they are adequately winded after each feed to prevent the build-up of gas.
What about medication?
There are lots of medications which can be bought over the counter at your local pharmacy. These include drops to break down gas bubbles (simeticone), lactase drops to help dissolve the lactose sugar in breastmilk and formula, gripe water, probiotic drops and many more. Your local pharmacist can talk you through these. There is no hard evidence to suggest that any of them make a significant difference to colic, but anecdotally some parents do feel that they help. If you do want to try medication perhaps consider using one treatment at a time for a week and then stopping again to see if there really is an improvement.
This too shall pass.
Most babies are free of colic by the age of four months, although in rare cases it can last until six months. This may seem like an eternity when you have a red-faced, screaming bundle, but just keep reminding yourself that one day it will stop.
If you think your baby has colic, you many find the following resources useful:
Cry-sis – a charity to support parents of crying babies or those with sleep problems. www.cry-sis.org.uk. Helpline 08451 228 669 open 7 days a week 9am-10pm.
National Childbirth Trust – coping with colic. https://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/coping-colic.
NHS choices website – http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Colic/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Dr Sophie Nelson is a GP with a specialist interest in Gastroenterology. She is a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Royal College of General Practitioners, has a Masters degree in Surgical Science from The University of Edinburgh and sits on the committee for the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology.