Infant colic is a common condition that may appear alarming to new parents, is not long-lasting. Infant colic is thought to affect around 1 in 5 infants in the UK in their first month of life. However, it is not a serious or chronic condition and most cases usually resolved by the age of 3-4 months.
Colic is usually recognised by bouts of inconsolable crying, often for hours at a time, for no specific reason – i.e. your baby is not hungry, overtired, needs a nappy change or has a raised temperature. If these bouts happen for hours at a time and occur more than 3 days over a period of a week, then colic is often the official diagnosis. Parents may report that the sound of the cry differs to usual and is more high-pitched.
Unlike with regular bouts of crying, babies with colic cannot be soothed by the usual methods and may also refuse food. Colic shares its symptoms with many other common conditions, but once checked over by a doctor, parents can rest assured that despite the alarming symptoms babies with colic are otherwise completely healthy and do not face an increased risk of any health conditions down the line.
What causes colic?
Despite medical research, no one is certain what causes infant colic (making it unfortunately much more difficult to treat). A likely explanation for colic may be the build-up of trapped wind in your baby’s bowel, which then causes pain and discomfort. Other possibilities include the baby’s body changing as it develops; at the age it most likely occurs (2 weeks- 3/4 months) your baby’s digestive system will be growing and it’s nervous system is also still in the developmental phase.
With more recent research emerging on the role of gut bacteria in our health, some experts believe colic could be linked to a change in bacteria in an infant’s gut, which will eventually resolve itself as your baby continues to grow.
It has been noted that dairy intolerance do appear to be more common in babies with colic; but since this does not occur in all babies it is likely to be a correlation rather than a direct cause (should you be concerned, this can easily be tested through your GP).
As you can see, there are range of reasons for a baby develop colic and while this might seem baffling, it is reassuring to know that it is usually a short-lived issue easily resolved.
When does colic occurs?
Colic can occur at any time, but it most commonly occurs in the late afternoon and evening time. In severe cases it can go on throughout the day. During this time, your baby may cry out in pain, draw their knees up to their chest and go red in the face. These are all classic symptoms of colic. Your baby’s tummy may also be swollen or bloated as if they’ve swallowed a lot of air, and they might pass wind more than usual. Bouts of colic last around 3 hours and afterwards the baby often returns to completely normal behaviour.
How long does colic last?
Periods of colic can last up to three hours. Once a baby is diagnosed with colic (often at the age of two weeks) it will continue up until around 3-4 months. Many parents report bouts of colic become less frequent as their baby grows until it ceases to be an issue after a few months.
Advice for parents
A colicky baby can be very distressing for everyone in the house. Listening to long periods of crying can leave you feeling tired, stressed and emotionally drained. New parents in particular can often feel as if they’ve done something wrong or are even to blame for their baby’s condition.
Despite the intensity of your baby’s cries, it is important to remember that colic is not a serious medical condition, and it will get better. Remember that you are not alone. Talking to other parents who have been through the same experience can really help. They may help reassure you that the condition will not be long lasting and will also not have any long-term impact on your baby’s health. While it might seem selfish, it is also completely normal to feel overwhelmed with a colicky baby so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Take turns with your partner or family members to take care of the baby, and to also have some respite for yourself. Be cautious of what you might read on the Internet about different methods of ‘curing’ colic, as they’re often inaccurate. Yet simple tricks can sometimes help, such as playing music or taking your baby on a car journey.
How to help baby with colic?
There are some simple tips and tricks that might make things a little easier with a colicky baby.
The first is to ensure you rule out any other causes of the symptoms such as things like an infection, cow’s milk allergy or acid reflux. These cause similar symptoms so it is always worth visiting your doctor to rule this out. While your first reaction may be to comfort your baby, remember that colicky babies often don’t respond to this, which can be frustrating. In fact, constantly picking your baby up may worsen the symptoms.
Experiment with different noises that may create a sense of calm; there are plenty of video mixes out there designed specifically to create a peaceful and relaxing environment (which, if nothing else, may give you a chance to unwind!). Some babies respond well to movement: gently rocking them or taking them for a stroll in their pushchair may help soothe them.
Burping your baby after feeding correctly and a warm bath can also be beneficial.
A final suggestion is for mothers’ to consider their diet if they are breastfeeding. This is because some foods and drinks have been linked to worsening colic, such as alcohol, coffee and spicy foods. It is worth limiting these factors for several weeks to see if they make any difference to the colic. If you find these have no impact then you may add them back to your diet.