How to Help Colic

Article By
Rob
Published On
11 Sep, 2022
Read Time
4 minutes

Colic is a medical term used to describe a baby that’s otherwise healthy and thriving but has repeated episodes of excessive and inconsolable crying.

Although colic is fairly rare – with the NCT stating that only 11% of babies get colic in the first six weeks, dropping to 0.6% by 10 to 12 weeks – it can happen any time before a little one hits the six-month mark.

It can be tricky to cope with for those families who do experience it. So to help you out, we’ve gathered some key information about colic and listed some top tips on how to soothe a baby with colic when nothing else seems to work.

What causes colic?

Frustratingly, it's not known what exactly causes some babies to get colic, but it may be caused by the fact that really young babies find it harder to digest food.

The truth is, any baby can experience colic, and some medical professionals think that it’s caused by stomach pains, trapped wind, hormone changes in the gut, or an allergy or sensitivity to milk protein.

What are the symptoms of colic?

It’s normal for babies to cry and just because your little one is crying, it doesn’t mean they’ve got colic. Normally, a baby will respond to your attempts to comfort them, and they will eventually stop crying.

The following symptoms may be signs that your baby has colic:

  • they cry for more than three and a half hours a day
  • their crying is inconsolable, almost continuous, intense, and sounds different from their usual cries
  • they cry the most during the late afternoon and early evening
  • their face becomes red and flushed
  • they are clenching their fists, bringing their legs up to their tummy or arching their back

What is the difference between normal crying and colic crying?

Normal crying is a natural way for babies to communicate their needs and feelings, such as hunger, discomfort, or tiredness. It usually lasts for a short time and can be easily soothed by feeding, changing a diaper, or cuddling.

On the other hand, colic crying is excessive and inconsolable crying that occurs in otherwise healthy babies. Colic episodes usually last for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, for at least one week and are stressful for both parents and babies.

Colic crying is typically higher pitched and more urgent sounding than normal crying and the babies with colic are usually very hard to console. Some sources say that babies with colic cry from around 6 p.m. to midnight.

How to treat colic

If your baby does have colic, you’ll understandably be looking for ways to comfort and soothe them. The following tips may provide some relief.

Swaddling

Some babies love being swaddled with their arms tucked into their chest because it reminds them of being in the womb. If you do swaddle your little one, make sure to lay them on their back and stop swaddling them as soon as they show signs of being able to roll over on their own.

Soothing sounds

Whether it’s your voice, white noise, or some calming background music, sound is a great way to soothe and distract an upset baby.

Baby massage

Gently rubbing your baby’s tummy in circular motions after a nappy change can help to aid their digestion and release any trapped wind. It’s best to massage your baby’s tummy as a preventative measure when they’re content and not crying or in pain.

Burping more often

Try winding your baby more often during their feeds. This will help to release any trapped air and soothe any tummy pains that are upsetting them.

Go for a ride

Some babies find movement soothing. Going for a drive in the car, popping them in their pram for a stroll around the block, or rocking them in their Moses basket may help to calm and comfort them.

Skin-to-skin and swaying

Feeling close and connected to you may help to calm and soothe your baby. Holding them close to your chest as you sway gently lets them feel your heartbeat and can help settle them.

Give them a warm bath

We all know that soaking in a warm bath is relaxing, and some babies find it relaxing too! The warmth of the water will help to relax their muscles. Plus, splashing about and playing with bath toys will provide some welcome distraction for you both.

Take them outside

There's an age-old recommendation that taking a baby with colic outside into fresh air can help soothe them. Perhaps a wander around the garden or a walk down the street may distract your baby enough to calm down, and it may just help you relax a little, too!

Try fast-flow teats

If you’re bottle feeding and your baby is colicky, one reason could be that the bottle teat has too small a hole, causing them to ingest air. Switching to a fast-flow anti-colic bottle teat will help to reduce the amount of air your baby swallows.

Hold your baby upright during feeds

Holding your little one upright during feeds can reduce the amount of air they swallow and help prevent trapped wind. When they're not feeding, rather than cradling them face-up, you can try lying your baby with your hand under their belly and their head on your forearm.

Speak to your GP about changing your diet

Colic could be linked to allergies. So, if your baby is breastfed, they may be allergic to something that you're eating. It might be a good idea to look at your diet but always check with your GP first before altering your diet.

Change their formula

If you’re using formula to feed your little one, it may help to ask your health visitor or doctor about using a hypoallergenic formula. Colic shouldn’t affect your little one’s feeds, but if they lose their appetite or don’t appear to be gaining weight properly, you should speak to your doctor.

Hang in there and ask for support

Remember that all parents who go through colic find it tough, and you're not alone! It's a difficult phase, but it won't last forever. Remember that it's okay to put your baby down somewhere safe (like in their cot or Moses basket) and have 10 minutes to yourself. Try to care for yourself, stay calm, take a break, and reach out to friends and family for support whenever you need it.

What can I give my newborn to treat colic?

If you’re thinking of giving your baby supplements or drops that claim to help with colic, it’s best to speak to your doctor or health visitor before you do so. There’s insufficient evidence to show that these products work.

How to deal with colic crying

If you're a parent who's coping with the stress of a crying baby that can’t be soothed you may be feeling frustrated, upset, worried and even angry that you cannot soothe your baby, and the truth is, these are all normal feelings.

It’s important to step away from your baby when necessary to have a break. You can ask your partner or a family member to take the baby if necessary, or lay your baby safely in their cot and leave the room to take a moment to breath and calm yourself down.

Remember that you're not alone and there are support lines and groups out there that parents can turn to if they are struggling.

Useful colic resources

  1. NCT Support line – 0333 252 5051

  2. Cry-sis helpline – 0800 448 0737

When to seek help for a baby with colic?

Although it can be unpleasant, colic isn’t normally anything to worry about. It typically peaks at around a few weeks old, improves at around three or four months, and resolves by five to six months of age.

But if your baby’s colic symptoms aren’t improving after the age of four months, you’re worried it might be something more serious than colic or are struggling to cope with your baby’s crying at any time, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your doctor or health visitor for advice and support.

They will be able to investigate further and can point you in the direction of support groups in your local area.

Remember, colic is tough to get through, but it will resolve over time, and you should always seek support if you're struggling.

You should seek medical advice right away if your little one:

  • has a fever with a temperature of 38°C or higher
  • has an unusual, weak or very high-pitched cry
  • is vomiting or has diarrhoea
  • seems listless or sleepier than usual
  • isn’t feeding well