Colic - a small word with a big impact! You may be wondering, as you try every technique under the sun to soothe your crying newborn, why you haven’t heard of this word much before now, why someone didn’t explain exactly what to do. But you’re here now and you are not alone: 1 in 5 babies suffer from colic. As a GP and a mother, I’ll talk you through what it is, what you can do about it and how long it will last.
Colic is the word used for when babies cry for a consistent period of time without any obvious cause. It’s not well understood and there’s no consensus on the cause. One theory is that a baby’s gut is underdeveloped early on, making it harder for them to digest food and causing some temporary distress. Another theory is that it occurs with an overactive supply and let down when breastfeeding. Colic typically starts in the first six weeks of life. It fits the diagnosis if a baby cries for more than three hours a day, for at least three days a week, for at least one week. Most babies suffer from colic towards the evening, but it can happen at any time of day. Colic usually goes away by itself after three to four months. But, of course, every baby is different: you may feel relieved if it’s short-lived, or you could be unlucky and it last for six months or so.
The main thing you can do is to comfort or distract your baby. It might not always work, but it’s worth a try. Holding your baby close to your chest or skin-to-skin may be effective. Other helpful techniques include massaging their tummy in clockwise circular motions, gently rocking them over your shoulder, which puts a gentle pressure on their tummies, or rocking them in their crib or a seat, or taking them for a walk in their pram. Consider putting white noise on in the background, to calm and distract them, and setting them up with a warm bath. Do make sure that your baby has a good suck when feeding, to prevent them swallowing air, which feels uncomfortable, and ensure to burp them after feeds. There are no medications that the doctor can prescribe that are known to help with colic. There are several products from pharmacies that may help, for example, gripe water (from 6 weeks old) or Infacol. You may also find probiotic and herbal supplements worthwhile.
This is a very personal matter, and entirely up to you. Some mums reason that as colic will resolve as baby grows, and in a world where you are already juggling many tasks, battling tiredness and feeling a bit drained and nutritionally deplete, that it may not be worth drastically changing your own diet. The foods we eat can pass into our baby via our breast milk, and this may triggers intolerance to these foods. With this theory, it makes sense to some mums to adjust their diet to see if this makes the difference. The most likely offenders are dairy products, but other foods like broccoli, garlic, spicy foods, caffeine, nuts, beans and shellfish have also be implicated.