Colic is something that new and expectant parents hear a lot about. Whenever your baby cries for an extended period, someone is bound to say, "is it colic?" like they are an authority on the subject. But, the reality is that while many are guilty of blaming any long crying spells on colic, no one is entirely sure what it is.
The NHS website says "colic is when a baby cries a lot, but there's no obvious cause" and that we can attribute crying to colic if our babies cry for more than three hours a day, three days a week, for at least one week. The truth is that most newborn and very young babies experience colic at some point, whether we realise that it's colic or not.
As a new parent, colic can be exceptionally frustrating and even heartbreaking. Your instinct is to do absolutely everything that you can to help your baby. Your baby crying is painful to you, but it often feels as though there is absolutely nothing that you can do to help. When your baby is crying for such a long period, it's easy to start worrying that there is something seriously wrong and you might be tempted to head straight to your GP, or even your nearest children's hospital. But, there's usually no need. Here's a look at some of the things that you could try before heading to the GP, as well as some signs that you do need to.
Comfort Your Baby
Often what our babies need more than anything else is comfort. Try cuddling them, rocking them in a basket or sling, or rubbing their backs whilst holding them upright to your shoulder. For more comfort, try a babocush. This is a cushion that holds your baby semi-upright, just like you do. It offers gentle vibrations and a heartbeat to soothe your baby and can give you an ‘extra pair of hands’.
Try a Warm Bath
One of the best ways to soothe your baby’s digestive discomfort is a warm bath. Make sure you have a baby bath that holds your baby securely in a more upright position which can be calming for newborns and make sure the water isn’t too hot for them.
The calming effect can only last until you extract them from this healthy, snuggly setting, but at least it can give you a brief break from the constant weeping.
Join a Baby Massage Group
Many people find baby massage soothes and comforts their baby. Look for a local group or class that you can join.
If your baby is really anxious, try to give them a gentle tummy massage, move your hands in a clockwise direction (following the direction of your baby's intestines) to encourage any trapped wind to move in the right direction.
You can also place your baby on their back and gently push their legs toward their tummy to ease things. Do this by holding your baby’s knees together, raise their legs slightly at the knees and pull them towards their tummy. Keep their legs in place here for a count of six seconds. You can also lightly cycle their legs as if they are cycling on a bicycle.
Sit Them Up for Feeds
Wind or reflux might be causing your baby to cry. Sit them up for feeds to reduce the risk of them swallowing air, and burp them gently after each feed. Speak to your doctor or health visitor for further tips on dealing with reflux.
Change Your Own Diet
If you are breastfeeding, try changing your own diet if your baby seems unsettled. According to the Mayo Clinic, some healthy eating tips for breastfeeding women include:
- Consume an additional 330 to 400 calories a day to keep up energy.
- Focus on making healthy choices to help your milk production - foods rich in protein such as eggs, dairy, lean meat and lentils will help. It is also important to eat a variety of wholegrain foods and fruit and vegetables.
- Drink plenty of water every single day. Sometimes thirst can be mistaken for hunger so try having a glass of water before reaching for foods or drinks high in fat or sugar - avoid sugary drinks and caffeine.
- It is important to note that if you drink alcohol, avoid breast feeding until the alcohol has completely cleared your breast milk (this can take two to three hours for every 12 ounces of alcohol).
- Exposure to excessive amounts of mercury in your breast milk may pose a risk to a baby's developing nervous system if you eat fish. To limit exposure to your infant, avoid mercury-rich seafood, including swordfish, king mackerel and tile fish.
- If you are vegetarian and breastfeeding, choose foods which are rich in iron, protein and calcium.
When to See Your GP
Trust your instincts. If nothing seems to be helping with baby colic and you are worried, we would recommend to head to the doctor, just in case. If you are finding it hard to cope, you are becoming frustrated and tired, it's also a good idea to seek medical advice, even if it's just reassurance that there's nothing seriously wrong with your baby.
You know your baby better than anyone. If their cry sounds different, they are older than four months, or they appear especially weak or lethargic during a crying spell, see your GP as soon as possible, or call A&E.