Colic is a kind of uber-crying that some, otherwise perfectly healthy, babies do that breaks your heart, tries your patience and shreds your nerves.
Experts think colic affects about one in five newborns, typically starting at two to four weeks after birth.
It tends to kick off at a specific time of day – often the late afternoon or early evening, 'arsenic hour' – and can last for hours. A colicky baby will pull up his knees, clench his fists and scream and scream and scream.
Nobody's exactly sure what causes it – although there are plenty of theories around – but everyone agrees on two things: it doesn't cause any long-term harm to your baby and it's a shocker for any parent to handle. As these Mumsnetters can testify:
- She really screams and sounds like she is in terrible pain and it can take a really long time to settle her. And then she starts all over again. Springle
- At about 4pm every day, our daughter starts to create. She just screams non-stop until she wears herself out. It carries on through bath time until she eventually stops at about 6pm for her last feed. slippeddisc
- I had to cope alone with the screaming while my husband was at work and I thought I was going to go mad. I used to get so upset because I wanted to delight in my new baby but I was just hanging on until the colic was over. The memory is still with me 15 years later! Minou
Coping with colic
Colic always improves on its own. Most babies are over it by three months, and even the diehard screamers have called it a day by five months or so. Which is nice to know but not much help when you're struggling to calm a colicky five-weeker.
Much more practical is trying all our regular suggestions for comforting a crying baby, plus these special tips from the Mumsnet coalface. We can't promise all of them will help your baby but some may – and, let's face it, when your baby's screaming the house down, it always feels better to have something to try...
1. Give your baby a massage. It can help them to pass wind and may help. Stroke your baby's tummy in a clockwise direction and then gently bring her legs up to her tummy.
2. Feed upright. Colic does seem to be associated with wind. Your baby will swallow less air as he feeds if you 'sit' him up a little. Don't forget to burp him well afterwards, too.
3. Buy a remedy. Look for ones containing simeticone drops, which are formulated to relieve wind.
4. Offer a dummy. Or a finger.
5. Bring on the white noise.
6. Try cranial osteopathy. There's no medical evidence that it works but many parents swear by it.
7. Sway and sssh. As this Mumsnetter explains: "Swaddle and cradle your baby on his side, then sway from side to side really, really fast, making sure your baby's head is snug in your arm. As you're doing this, says 'Ssh!' into your baby's ear really loudly. It must be louder than your baby's cry for him to hear."
8. Hand over to someone else. Sometimes, a new and less stressed pair of arms can make all the difference.
9. Do the 'tiger in the tree'. Holding and carrying your baby belly down, rather than belly up, can help ease old trapped-wind situation no end.
10. Try excluding cow's milk protein. Some babies do have an (often temporary) lactose intolerance. If you think this could be a possibility, you could try a dairy-free diet for a week or, if you're bottlefeeding, switch to a hypoallergenic formula. Talk to your GP or health visitor first, though, as they may want to monitor your progress and maybe explore other related problems, such as reflux.
11. Take time out. Endlessly, fruitlessly comforting a colicky baby can stretch you to breaking point.
12. Find support. If you're all out of support or really at your wits' end or both, call the Cry-sis helpline on 08451 228669 (9am to 10pm, seven days a week).
And, finally, and probably most importantly...
13. Know it will pass. And until it does, avail yourself of the empathy from other women who've endured colicky babies on the Babies Talk forum.
What Mumsnetters say about coping with colic
- It really soothed her to suck a dummy. I would hold her, and hold the dummy as well, as she would just push it out with her tongue to start with. Littlefish
- I've found that white noise helps hugely in calming him down – God knows why. Luckily, I've got a CD of it, so I don't need to have the Hoover on all the time. MrsBumblebee
- It is very gentle and non-invasive and the baby often goes to sleep. The cranial osteopath should be able to tell you straight away what he thinks the problem is and how many sessions you will need. We only had four and saw an immediate improvement. bossybritches
- My husband would lie on his back in a darkened room, with our baby on his chest, inhaling and exhaling slowly as if meditating. It was hard work but tended to pay off eventually. LuLuBai
- Hold your baby facing away from you, on his front with your hands supporting his tummy, at a 30 degree-ish angle. It's hard to describe but it's almost like he's a plane taking off from standing on your lap. buddum
- Our daughter was fully breastfed but cried for what felt like hours a day. I removed dairy and lactose from my diet and had a different child within 48 hours. DorisIsAPInkDragon
- If you feel like you really can't take any more, put your baby down somewhere safe and leave him for a couple of minutes. Use those minutes to take deep breaths, have a cup of tea – anything that'll help you regain your calm and perspective. Porpoise
- Talk about how you're feeling with people who've been there. People with 'normal' babies really can't understand. puppydavies
- My daughter was incredibly miserable and unsettled for the first few months of her life and used to scream for hours. I was exhausted and depressed. I tried every remedy on the market but, in the end, time was the only real solution. It does pass – I promise. Your little one will get better. Just take each day at a time, use Mumsnet for support, and try to look after yourself as best you can. JessicatMagnificat
Last updated: 10 months ago