Coping with colic
Nicola Smith investigates colic and speaks to two local mums who have tried different approaches to dealing with it.
What is colic?
There is no standard definition of colic (and some experts even question its existence). It is usually characterised as crying in a healthy, normally developing baby which is unrelated to pain or hunger, occurring most days or evenings over a period of time. Although crying can occur at any time, it usually gets worse in the late afternoon and evening after feeding, and can affect your baby’s sleep. Crying can be intense and furious. A red face, clenched fists, drawn-up knees or an arched back are other signs. Colic affects up to 20% of babies according to some estimates.
Although it may appear that your baby is in distress, colic is not harmful – your little one will feed and gain weight normally.
How long will it last for?
Colic usually starts in the first few weeks and generally goes by the time a baby is three or four months old.
What are the possible causes of colic?
There is little conclusive evidence on the causes of colic and this is therefore a contentious topic! However some theories are:
- An underdeveloped gut
- Overproduction of intestinal gases
- Sensitivities to certain substances in formula milk or passed on through breastmilk e.g. lactose (natural sugar) or diary. Some other foods that mum eats could aggravate colic
- Some babies are just more sensitive to stimulation and cry more than others
- There is some evidence of a link between smoking (during and after pregnancy) and colic
Also bear in mind that your baby’s crying may be due to something other than colic. Other possible causes are:
- Reflux, caused by stomach contents flowing back up the oesophagus. Speak to your GP if you suspect reflux
- Indigestion or wind – exacerbated by the way in which your baby feeds (speed/position)
- An overactive let-down (when milk is ejected forcefully from the breast and in great quantity) and/or hindmilk/foremilk imbalance (when a baby consumes large amounts of the watery foremilk produced at the start of a feed and less of the fatty hindmilk). See www.motherandchildhealth.com/Breastfeeding/Becky/too_much.html for more details
It is important to rule out medical causes for crying. If you suspect that your baby is unwell, or if you are worried that their symptoms are caused by something other than colic, see your GP.
Possible ways to relieve colic
Despite many years of research, there is no proven cure for colic, but some measures you can try are:
- Ensuring your baby is well positioned at your breast and that she ‘finishes’ the first breast before offering her the second
- Always winding after a feed
- Anti-colic teats (for bottle feeding)
- Different formula (for bottle feeding) – ask your health visitor about different brands
- Elimination diets (for mum) if you are breastfeeding. For further details, see www.breastfeedingonline.com/2pdf.pdf and www.breastfeedingonline.com/allergy.shtml. An elimination diet should be embarked upon with care – speak to your GP or health visitor first
- The ‘colic dance’ – hug baby and gently sway with your knees bent, alternating back and forward, side to side and up and down
- Gentle tummy massage
- Carrying baby in a sling, or trying a baby swing
- Some babies find sucking very soothing
- Reducing levels of stimulation in your baby’s environment
- Chiropractic spinal manipulation therapy or cranial osteopathy
- Various over-the-counter colic medicines such as Infacol and Colief or herbal drinks and gripe water. Always check with your GP, pharmacist or health visitor before giving your baby any medications
It’s also worth remembering that however bad colic may seem, it WILL eventually disappear.
Looking after you
Perhaps the main problem with colic is how stressed and anxious it can make you feel – especially if your sleep is affected.
- If your little one is ‘colicky’ in the evenings, make sure lunch is your main meal of the day and your main source of protein and energy. You’ll need to keep your strength up
- Ensure you have support and are able to take a break. Share the crying times if you can
- It can be really helpful to talk to parents who have been through the same thing e.g. through online forums such as Mumsnet which can be a great source of support and advice
- Try contacting one of the resources listed below who specifically help parents of crying babies
Georgina – mum to Felix, aged 3 months
“I don’t think we ever really knew what ‘colic’ was, as there were so many different definitions in books…. But we certainly had several hours of crying each night for no apparent reason. We found it quite wearing, as one of us would have to be up and holding Felix, so dinner was a case of tag team eating at a hundred miles an hour, but we knew it wasn’t going to last forever. We found that swaddling really helped, as did a dummy to help soothe him. Also, ssshhing and patting his back or bottom helped, as well as putting him on his tummy on our arm and swinging him from side to side. I read a book by Dr Harvey Karp called “Baby Bliss” which teaches five ‘s’s’ to stop colic – swaddling, stomach (put them on their stomach or side), ssshhing, swinging and sucking (dummy). They really helped, even though Felix would have hysterics while we were swaddling him. However, once he was bound up, he quickly calmed down.”
Liz – mum to Lucie, aged 7 months
“As a new mum, no one had prepared me for the strange grunting and writhing noises Lucie started to make at three weeks. She would also draw up her legs to her chest – clearly very uncomfortable. I would lay down on the floor next to her Moses basket, unable to sleep through the noise and so worried about her. I was shattered. I tried winding her, but didn’t know when to stop – should I carry on for 20 minutes? What if she didn’t burp?! I tried cranial osteopathy, which helped to correct some stiffness in her neck, but it didn’t really help the colic.
“One evening, to give me some well-needed rest, I booked a night nanny. Jacqui Nancey – a qualified midwife and breastfeeding counsellor – saved me in one night! She taught me a massaging technique to relax all Lucie’s muscles and help the milk go down more easily, preventing gas. It was a routine with a beginning and end, so I knew when to stop. She also encouraged me to warm Lucie’s milk (I was mixed feeding by this stage) – as breast milk is very warm. And to feed in 2oz bursts, with winding in between. In addition, she swaddled Lucie tightly, raised her cot and placed a rolled towel under her bottom so that her legs were slightly lifted – as she would have been in my tummy. Since that point onwards, Lucie has slept through the night, with no more colic symptoms.”
www.cry-sis.org.uk (a charity offering support for families with excessively crying, sleepless and demanding babies)
“Baby Bliss: Your One-Stop Guide for the First Three Months and Beyond” – Dr Harvey Karp (Penguin, 2004)
Jacqui Nancey: www.problemsolvingbreastfeedingcafe.com
The NCT has produced an evidence based briefing on colic: www.nctpregnancyandbabycare.com/_files/documents/65c82f098344e7a754b24d5e82e2ddfd/NewDigest38EBB-Colic.pdf (or just type ‘NCT colic in babies’ into Google!)