Colic is the name for excessive and frequent crying in a baby who appears to be otherwise healthy. It's a common problem that affects up to 1 in 5 babies.
Colic usually starts when a baby is 2 weeks old. It usually ends by 4 months of age. Sometimes it lasts until the baby is 6 months old.
It is not known why babies get colic.
A baby has colic if they cry:
- for more than 3 hours a day
- for more than 3 days a week
- for more than 3 weeks
Colic can be very upsetting for parents. It is hard to see your baby crying so intensely, and it can seem like your baby is in pain.
Signs and symptoms of colic
Signs and symptoms that your baby has colic include:
- periods of crying where they are harder to console than usual - over 3 hours a day for more than 3 days a week and over a period of 3 weeks or more
- drawing their legs up, arching their back or clenching their fists
- going red in the face
- seeming to settle and then having another spell of crying
Crying is more common in the evening time. Sometimes a baby with colic can cry for many hours during the day or night.
If your baby has colic, they may appear to be in distress. But babies with colic are fine between periods of crying. Your baby should be feeding well and gaining weight even if they have colic.
Causes of colic
We don't know what causes colic. Colic is more common in premature babies. It can be more common if the baby is in a home where somebody smokes.
How to help a baby with colic
There is no treatment for colic. Different things will help different babies. As you get to know your baby, you will learn what works for you.
Things that might help include:
- Hold your baby close during a crying episode. You are not 'spoiling' your baby by responding to their needs in this way.
- Sit your baby upright during feeds.
- Wind or burp your baby after feeds.
- Gently rock your baby.
- A warm bath can really help some babies with colic.
- Avoid over-stimulating your baby with loud noise, bright lights or a crowded room.
- Gently massaging your baby's tummy before they are likely to cry may help. Do this in a circular motion. Do not massage after a feed.
There are some other things you may like to try. There is no scientific research to support their use, but some parents find them helpful:
- Movement and motion, for example a walk in the buggy or pram, or a car journey.
- 'White noise' like the low frequency noise of a vacuum cleaner, a radio not tuned in properly or 'white noise' music or apps.
Advice for colic if breastfeeding
Breastfeeding your baby can help them to relax and relieve pain.
Try emptying your milk in one breast during a feed before changing breasts. You create two types of milk when breastfeeding and the second half of your milk has more fat in it.
Fat slows down digestion and helps to release food slowly, helping with digestion.
If breastfeeding, avoid drinking tea, coffee and other drinks that contain caffeine.
Advice for colic if bottle-feeding
Try making up bottles with 1 to 2 oz more milk than your baby drinks. This will allow feeding to appetite and you can tell when your baby is full.
Minimise the amount of air in the bottle and feed your baby in the correct position.
Avoid changing the type of formula your baby is using. Always talk to your public health nurse before changing your baby's formula milk.
Be careful about using complementary therapies like herbal remedies. These have not been proven to work and some have been shown to cause serious side effects.
There is very little evidence that cranial osteopathy or spinal manipulation help with colic. Always speak to your Public Health Nurse or GP before bringing your baby for these treatments.
When you should see your GP
Non-urgent advice: Bring your baby to the GP if:
- you are not sure if your baby has colic or why they are crying
- they are vomiting green stuff (bile)
- they have projectile vomiting
- they have bloody poo
- they are not feeding well
- their symptoms started after you introduced formula
- they are losing weight or not gaining weight
- they have a temperature greater than 38 degrees C
- you are concerned
- you are finding it hard to cope
Looking after yourself
Many babies get colic. This is not your fault. You are not spoiling your baby and your baby is not rejecting you.
It can be upsetting when your baby is difficult to comfort. It can also be upsetting when someone else manages to soothe a baby that has been crying with you for hours.
Try and remember:
- this will stop eventually. All babies with colic have improved by 4 to 6 months
- you need to get rest and look after your own wellbeing. If possible, ask family and friends for support