Your baby’s face is bright red, they’re drawing their knees up in and their tummy feels swollen and bloated. You’ve tried everything you can to pacify them, and all you want to know is how to make them stop.
If this is your experience of life with a newborn, you’re in good company. Around 30 per cent of new mums are going through exactly the same thing as you. Watching your baby writhe around in what appears to be agony is extremely distressing, but try not to panic. As long as she’s healthy and gaining weight, you can rest assured that colic is not a serious illness — and she certainly won’t suffer in the long-term.
“Although it feels like your baby’s colic will never end, most parents find that symptoms disappear within a few months,” says GP Dr Philippa Ridley.
What is colic?
Although there’s no medical definition of it, colic is widely believed to be pain caused by the build-up of wind in the stomach or bowel. Another increasingly popular theory is that it’s caused by an intolerance to lactose (the natural sugar found in milk).
But some experts believe that colic has nothing to do with your baby’s digestion, claiming that it’s simply a developmental stage which involves persistent, unexplained crying.
Whatever the cause, if your baby has colic, you’ll know. It usually begins in the first few weeks of life and lasts until your baby is around 3 months old. It occurs most commonly in the late afternoon and evening. “Before diagnosing colic, it’s vital to rule out other causes of crying,” Dr Ridley highlights.
“Your baby may be hungry or over-tired, for example. If there are other symptoms, such as a raised temperature (over 37 deg C), diarrhoea or a rash, then you need to see a doctor, as your baby may have an infection or a virus.”
It’s not your fault but what do you do?
Use trial and error to find out what comforts your baby most. And remember that what doesn’t work today might tomorrow.
1. Burp more Try burping your baby halfway through a feed, as well as at the end. Also, don’t let them cry for too long before you feed them, as it can make them swallow lots of air.
2. Give them rhythm Many babies love gentle rocking and being held close to you so that they can feel your warmth and hear your heartbeat. To avoid arm ache, take them for a walk in the stroller or for a drive. She may find the rhythm of the movement soothing.
3. A gentle rub Massage is a great way to relieve trapped wind (if that’s the cause). Rub a little olive oil into your fingers. Using two fingertips, gently stroke your baby’s stomach in a clockwise, circular motion from her belly button outwards. Make the circles gradually bigger, and then start again, repeating as many times as you like. Try this an hour before your baby usually cries, but not just after a feed.
4. Camomile is soothing Some breastfeeding mums find that the calming, slightly sedative effect of camomile tea is passed on to their babies if they drink the tea a few hours before feeding. Try avoiding things that make you windy — onions, baked beans, cabbage and spicy foods are common culprits — and see if that helps. Camomile might make you calmer, too, so it’s worth a try. If you’re bottlefeeding, give your baby a few drops of weak camomile tea in her bottle or on a teaspoon.
5. Feed your baby upright Some experts believe that feeding your baby in an upright position may help prevent the build-up of wind associated with colic. In countries where babies are carried upright and breastfed in slings, there are far less babies with colic. With a bit of practice, it should be possible to either nurse or bottlefeed your baby in an upright position.
6. A spoonful of sugar Medical research has found that small doses of sucrose solution can soothe some small babies. Dissolve one tablespoon of sugar in a cup of boiling water and leave to cool. Using a plastic syringe, available from pharmacies, dribble 2ml of the solution into the corner of your baby’s mouth. Give one or two doses a day for no longer than two weeks. If her condition doesn’t improve within two days, discontinue. Store unused solution in a sterilised bottle in the fridge, for up to 24 hours.
7. Pacifiers help Letting your baby suck on a pacifier can help.
8. OTC remedies Colimix, Gripe Water, Infacol and Dentinox. “Whichever one you choose, always check the age suitability, read the label and never exceed the recommended dose,” stresses Dr Ridley.
9. Reduce baby’s stimulation One theory is that colic is caused by over-stimulation. Try giving your baby some quiet time away from distractions, such as siblings, toys or bright lights. Take your baby to a quiet room, swaddle her or carry her in a sling. Don’t try to play with her or chat to her — just create a calm, peaceful environment where you can be close.
10. Use a smaller bottle If your baby only has small feeds, try using the small 125ml (4oz) bottles instead of the 260ml (9oz) ones, to stop your baby sucking in too much air when she’s drinking. Also, look for a slow-flow teat, which will help stop your baby gulping in air. “If you’re worried that your baby’s formula milk doesn’t agree with her, talk to your paediatrician — but don’t switch to soya without consulting a professional first,” Dr Ridley advises.