Does my baby have colic?

Is your baby crying all the time and you don't know why? It could be colic. Here's what you need to know...

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Colic refers to routine bouts of crying, during which your baby seems inconsolable, but with no obvious cause. 

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What are the signs of colic?

According to the NHS, the definition of colic is excessive, frequent crying in a baby who appears to be otherwise healthy.

Another definition is: crying that lasts for more than three hours a day, more than three times a week, for three weeks at a time.

Although the wailing can seem sudden, intense, and be heartbreaking to witness, it’s harmless, with a fifth of all UK newborns experiencing it to one degree or another. It affects boys and girls equally, and is the most common complaint the NHS sees in young babies, so you’re not alone!

Why does it happen?

Although experts agree that colic can appear from the first two to four weeks of a baby’s life, the jury’s still out when it comes to the root cause.

“One belief is that at 3 to 12 weeks a baby’s stomach goes through a maturing process,” explains Dr Catherine Hood, a GP. “The digestive system finds it hard to break down the large enzymes in milk, which results in a gut spasm, causing discomfort.”

But there are other theories that indicate rapid feeding, wind, food intolerance, or even too much air getting into a baby’s feed, could be to blame. 

What can you do?

An inconsolable baby who cries for hours and hours is difficult at the best of times, but can be especially hard if you’re feeling particularly exhausted from a hectic day. “Both parents need to work out a strategy when dealing with colic,” advises Catherine. “If you’re sleep deprived and stressed, your baby will pick up on this and find it harder to relax.”

Talking to your partner and sharing the soothing load is key. “The hardest thing is not knowing what might happen, so prepare yourself, be flexible and get support from family and friends if you feel it’s all becoming too much,” adds Catherine. 

Can I treat it?

Although there’s no definitive cure, there are things you can do to help ease colic symptoms.

Movement when your little one is crying is soothing, so rock her in your arms or use a bouncer. Keep an eye out for signs of overstimulation, such as her looking away, sucking on hands, and grizzling, as you need to start calming her down in the run-up to bedtime.

When feeding your baby, remember to wind her for five minutes after every feed to prevent indigestion, but don’t over-burp. Holding your baby face-down along your forearm with your hand supporting her between her legs is also thought to soothe colic.

And finally, make sure you remove any stress from the situation, as your baby will pick up that you’re frustrated by the tone of your voice or the way you’re holding her.

What if it’s not colic?

If your normally healthy and happy baby starts crying for long periods with no clear reason, it could indicate something more serious…

Under the weather – Your little one could be suffering from a fever, rash or cold. Seek prompt medical advice.

A bloated belly – If your baby’s poos have become less frequent, then she may be constipated.

Troubled tummy – She could be experiencing acid reflux, where swallowed milk comes back up from the stomach. If you think your baby has this, seek medical attention.  

Did you know? 

A new University of Southampton study found that gentle manipulative techniques, such as osteopathy and chiropractic, can help ease colic symptoms in babies and reduce crying time. 

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