Understanding Colic: What is it, Symptoms & How Long Does it Last?

Understanding Colic: What is it, Symptoms and How Long Does it Last?

Posted by Kerry Nevins on

You’ve fed and burped your baby, but they can’t seem to get comfortable. Every time you lay your little one down they can’t stop fidgeting, they’re not hungry and don’t need changing. You can’t figure out what’s wrong and don’t know what to do to soothe them. Sound familiar? You’re not alone! This is something that probably sounds all too familiar for many parents.

All babies cry, as this is how they communicate their needs before they’re old enough to express themselves in other ways. As their parents, we’re compelled to try and tend to the needs of our babies . but when we don’t know what the cause of crying is, this can be frustrating and exhausting. If this situation happens often, your baby may have colic.

What is colic?

What is colic?

When people talk about colic it can be confusing. This is because “colic” is actually an umbrella term for various different symptoms that are often interlinked. It’s not a diagnosis, an illness or a disease. It’s actually a combination of behaviors that signal discomfort. What “colic” really means is unexplained crying and a look and feeling of being upset without an obvious cause - but it’s most likely to do with digestion.

A baby can get colic from when they’re just a few weeks old, up to around 6 months old. Symptoms usually last for a few days or weeks (or longer in some cases), but it’s only a short term issue and will eventually go away. Colic is a common complaint with babies, but it’s not dangerous and usually gets better on its own with a little support from parents. There are other types of colic, however, in this article, we’re going to talk specifically about colic in infants.

What causes colic?

What causes colic?

If your baby has colic, it’s absolutely not a reflection of you as a parent. There’s nothing you can do to stop your baby from getting colic, or to make it go away. Even if your baby could articulate exactly what they wanted, all the time (which no baby can do!) colic would still take its natural course!

Colic is characterised by various different symptoms that can occur separately or together. Doctors or parents can’t be exactly sure what causes colic in individual cases. And symptoms can be worse in some babies than others.

Some experts think it can be caused by a mild allergy to lactose if bottle feeding, or other foods that the mother is consuming (if breastfeeding) but this hasn’t been proven. It can also be that some babies find it harder to digest certain things than others. As colic isn’t dangerous, no intensive testing is needed to determine the cause and symptoms will eventually go away on their own.

Symptoms of colic

Symptoms of colic

If your baby is crying more than 3 hours a day, 3 days a week for at least 1 week and is hard to soothe and settle, then they could have colic. They may also have other symptoms which according to the NHS are:

  • Clenching fists, bringing their knees up to their tummy or arching their back and moving their arms and legs more.
  • Inconsolable crying - often at a similar time each day.
  • Crying has no obvious cause, and your baby doesn’t seem hungry, tired or need changing.
  • Going red in the face.
  • Closing their eyes or opening them wide, furrowing their brow and even briefly holding their breath.
  • Spitting up or being sick more than usual, experiencing reflux.
  • Finds it hard to relax or sleep, often waking up crying after a short rest.
  • Their tummy rumbles or they’re very gassy.
  • Seems to want to feed, only to reject the bottle or nipple when introduced to it.

Colic can stop gradually or suddenly or flare up and down until it eventually disappears. Symptoms will usually pass within a few weeks (or months, in some cases)! Although symptoms are usually regular, occurring at similar times of day, there may be days your baby may seem comfortable only for the colicky symptoms to return.

The only thing you can do to address colic is to soothe the symptoms. But finding out what works can take a little time and experimentation.

Feeding Tips for Colicky Comfort

Colic can make feeding times a bit more challenging, but with the right approach, you can make it a smoother experience for both you and your baby.

Feeding during colic episodes, whether breastfeeding or using formula, demands a thoughtful approach. If breastfeeding, consider experimenting with different nursing positions to find the one that brings the most comfort. Frequent feeding is common during colic, so be prepared for more feeding sessions throughout the day.

For formula-fed babies, explore hypoallergenic formulas that might alleviate colic symptoms. Additionally, pay attention to burping techniques after each feed to minimize discomfort. Understanding your baby's cues and adjusting your feeding routine accordingly can make a significant difference in managing colic-related challenges.

Staying Social

Parents facing colic often find solace in connecting with others who understand the journey. Seek out support groups, either online or in your local community, where you can share your challenges, triumphs, and coping mechanisms. Whether it's a casual chat or a structured support group, knowing you're not alone can provide immense comfort.

Encourage friends and family to visit and offer assistance. Sometimes, a friendly face or an extra pair of hands can make all the difference. Being open about your experiences helps break down the stigma associated with colic and creates a supportive network for both parents and their colicky babies.

Travel Tips

Travelling with a colicky baby requires careful planning, but it's possible to make the journey more enjoyable for both of you.

Whether you're on a road trip, taking a flight, or just stepping out for a stroll, managing outings with a colicky baby involves a bit of preparation. When traveling by car, plan breaks for feeding and soothing. Consider bringing familiar items, such as a favorite blanket or toy, to create a sense of comfort in new environments.

For air travel, inform the airline in advance about your baby's condition and plan flights during their more relaxed periods. Pack a well-stocked diaper bag with essentials like diapers, wipes, and extra clothes, ensuring you're ready for any unexpected colic-related moments. Most importantly, remain flexible with your plans and be patient; your baby's well-being comes first.

Managing daily life with a colicky baby requires a combination of practical strategies, emotional support, and a flexible mindset. By addressing feeding challenges, staying socially connected, and planning for outings, you can navigate the colic journey with resilience and grace. Remember, you're not alone in this, and with time, both you and your baby will find comfort and relief.


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