All babies cry. It is the only way for them to communicate their needs to us as parents, who are biologically wired to respond to those needs.
In babies with colic, that crying is continuous and intense, seems to start for no apparent reason, and doesn’t stop despite you going through the checklist of your baby’s needs – from feeding to cuddles and everything in between.
The medical definition of colic is loose at best, as the term essentially refers to a period of crying for more than three hours per day, for more than three days per week, and for at least one week, in an otherwise healthy baby.
Colic is surprisingly common, affecting around 1 in every 5 babies, usually between the ages of 0-12 weeks. The most successful ‘treatment’ of colic is the passage of time, but if you are a stressed parent with a colicky baby, that solution may be easier said than done.
What causes colic?
The exact cause of colic is unknown but suggested reasons for it include an immature digestive system resulting in discomfort, congestion and gas; overstimulation of newborn senses making them more sensitive to their surroundings and more easily overwhelmed as they process the world around them; possible food allergies or intolerances from the baby’s milk source.
It is also believed that gastroesophageal reflux can trigger colic episodes in babies although it is not thought to cause colic.
Symptoms of colic
As mentioned above, doctors usually apply the rule of three to a colicky baby’s crying pattern – crying lasts for more than three hours per day, for at least three days of the week, and for at least one week. You may also notice that the crying is more common in the afternoon and evening, the so-called ‘witching hour’.
A colicky baby is hard to settle, will likely clench their fists when crying and go red in the face. They may also arch their back or bring their knees up close to the tummy to signal their discomfort.
Bowel activity and wind may also step up a notch, and eating and sleeping patterns can be disrupted by the crying.
What can you do to ease the symptoms of colic?
While it may feel never-ending, the good news is that colic will go away after a period of time, usually peaking at 6-8 weeks and disappearing completely by three months of age.
In the meantime, here are some tips for helping to soothe the symptoms commonly associated with colic:
- Comfort your baby during the period of crying, providing lots of skin-to-skin and cuddles.
- Give your baby a warm bath.
- Sit or hold your baby upright during feeds to minimise the amount of air swallowed, then keep them upright to wind them afterwards.
- Gently rock your baby over your shoulder, applying a light pressure to the tummy.
- Massage your baby’s tummy – this can help to tone the digestive tract, expel wind from the body and break down large air bubbles. Massage has also been found to help support healthy brain development in babies which in turn, encourages more efficient brain to body communication.
Some doctors or health visitors may also encourage you to look into anti-colic drops, your diet if breastfeeding, or the type of formula that your little one has, but always seek medical advice before making any changes.
Jen Dowding, Baby massage and baby yoga instructor, Basking Babies Laindon & Orsett