Up to half of all infants suffer from colic, so if you currently spend your evenings pacing the living room with a crying baby, you’re not alone. The truth is, no one knows what is actually responsible for it.
“What colic is, and how to define it, is one of the most contentious issues in the medical field,” says Dr Barry Lester, a director at the Women and Infants Hospital in Rhode Island, USA. The hospital runs a unique service called the Infant Behaviour Cry and Sleep Clinic or, as it’s known to its staff and patients, The Colic Clinic.
Many colic symptoms point to abdominal discomfort, leading some experts to theorise that colic is related to reflux (milk in the stomach coming back up into the oesophagus). It’s also been linked to a milk-protein allergy, lactose intolerance and wind. Many experts agree, in some cases, it’s likely to be related to stress rather than abdominal pain.
The standard definition of a baby with colic is one who cries for at least three hours per day, at least three days per week, for at least three weeks. It tends to occur in the first three months of an infant’s life and generally strikes in the afternoon or evening.
• A sudden onset of excessive, stop/start crying
• A cry that seems to indicate pain
• Clenched fists, stiff limbs and a tight stomach.
The overall conclusion is that there are many causes of colic. And this means that if you want to find the solution that helps ease colic for your baby, you’ll need to try several different options.
“We treat colic not as a single problem with the baby, but as a family issue,” Dr Lester explains. “Everyone who comes to our clinic is seen by a paediatrician to determine the cause and attack the colic head on. They are also seen by a mental-health professional, who looks after the well-being of all the family members.”
“Colic needs to be addressed right from the start,” Dr Lester notes. “The colic might pass, but the damage it can do to the whole family might last for far longer.”
Try these 9 solutions:
1) Keep a sleep diary
“Sometimes, a baby appears to have a colic problem, but in fact has a sleep disorder,” says Dr Lester. “He can’t put himself to sleep or he can’t stay asleep, and that’s at the root of his unsettled behaviour.”
Keep a diary, broken into half-hour slots, and note when your baby is feeding, when he is sleeping and when he is crying. This will help you work out if a sleep problem is triggering the crying episodes. If this does appear to be the cause, help your baby to form solid sleep habits with consistent, regular and calming routines, putting him down while drowsy but still awake.
"Put your baby in a carrier and take him for a walk…
The baby’s closeness to a parent can be comforting and the vibrations of movement soothing.”
2) Get help with feeding
The Colic Clinic sees many babies whose crying episodes occur after feeding. “We have specialists to look at the baby’s feeding position and latch, whether he is grazing instead of taking full feeds, and the mother’s milk production,” Dr Lester says. So, if you’re breastfeeding, get one-on-one advice from a lactation specialist.
3) Is it reflux?
Lots of babies spit up milk, but some babies suffer from a more serious form of reflux. Gastro-oesophageal reflux (or GERD) occurs when the muscle that prevents stomach acid from leaking back into the oesophagus doesn’t close tightly and this can cause colic.
Keep your baby upright after feeding. If you’re concerned he might have this condition, see your paediatrician, as there are medicines that can help.
4) Look at what you’re eating
Lactose intolerance is a cause of colicky symptoms. If you bottle-feed, ask your doctor about switching to a hypoallergenic milk formula. If you breastfeed, analyse what you’re eating.
A 2005 study found that removing allergenic foods — such as cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, wheat and soy — from a breastfeeding mother’s diet reduced crying and fussiness in babies under 6 weeks. Try removing dairy products from your diet for a week to see if your baby’s symptoms improve. But be aware that you’ll need a balanced diet as a new mum, so talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes.
Still crying? Try the wrap, and the quiet…
5) Swaddle your baby
“If your baby is exhibiting strong physical signs as well as crying, like arching their back, I sometimes recommend swaddling,” Dr Lester says. “Wrap them really securely, so they’re like an Egyptian mummy, and then rock them or place them against your shoulder.”
6) Carry your baby
Research has found that babies who are carried for four to five hours a day cry less at 6 weeks old than those carried for two to three hours.
“Put your baby in a carrier and take him for a walk,” Dr Lester suggests. “The baby’s closeness to a parent can be comforting and the vibrations of movement soothing.”
It also gets you out of the house and gives you a reminder that you’re not a prisoner to colic.
7) Lower stimulation levels
“Some colicky babies are over-stimulated,” says Dr Lester. “Lowering the level of stimulation by keeping their surroundings very calm can help.”
Add notes to your diary documenting the environment your baby is in when and before colicky episodes occur. If a pattern emerges, respond to it accordingly.
“Bear in mind that some babies use stimulation to calm themselves,” adds Dr Lester. “Some mums report the noise of a shopping centre calmed their baby!”
“You need to... Be reminded that this colicky phase is not your whole life. Take some time to exercise, read a book or go shopping.”
8) Have a date night (we’re NOT joking)
What’s a date night got to do with colic? “It’s critical!” says Dr Lester.
“The stress of having a baby with colic can very easily drive a wedge not only between the parent-infant relationship, but between the parents as well, and cause marital problems. Parents tell me they couldn’t leave a babysitter to cope with their screaming baby, even for an hour.
“But working on your relationship is more important than making the sitter’s life difficult for a very short while.”
9) Take some “me” time
“Colic can badly shake a mum’s confidence in her parenting ability,” says Dr Lester.
Many mums coping with a colicky baby also struggle with feelings of anger or disappointment, which in turn, can trigger feelings of guilt. Studies show a strong correlation between maternal depression and colic.
“This can affect the relationship with her baby,” Dr Lester notes. “Me” time can help to counteract this. “You need to get back in touch with the part of you that is not a mother, and be reminded that this colicky phase is not your whole life,” says Dr Lester. “Take some time to exercise, read a book or go shopping.”