Colic: How to cope if your baby has colic

Crying Baby

Colic is distressing for babies and parents alike. While the causes are up for debate, there are lots of things you can to try to help cure it – or at least help you and your baby live with it until it passes.

What is colic?

Experts think about one in five newborns suffers from colic – which is bouts of excessive crying and apparent abdominal pain in otherwise healthy babies. It typically starts at two to four weeks and tends to resolve itself by four to six months old.

It isn't harmful to your baby but it can be distressing for both her and you, bringing sleepless nights, piercing noise and a rising feeling of helplessness for parents. If your baby is suffering from colic then you have our sympathy and you can be assured there are lots of tips and tricks to help you both get through it.

Try to stay calm and remember – your baby's crying is not your fault and there's nothing wrong that needs 'fixing'. No matter how bad it sounds, the crying will end and one day this will all be a distant memory.

What are the symptoms of colic?

  • Intense bouts of crying, usually starting in late afternoon/early evening
  • Red and flushed face when crying
  • Baby pulling up her knees, arching her back and clenching her fists when crying

What causes colic?

Experts are uncertain about the causes of colic. Some experts believe it's caused by an allergy to milk-protein in formula-fed babies, although in truth colic is as common among breastfed babies as it is among bottle-fed babies. Others feel it could be connected to indigestion or trapped wind, or that it's caused by a baby's immature digestive system being super-sensitive to the sugars and protein in breastmilk or formula.

The good news is that everybody agrees that colic causes no long term damage to your baby. Even while your baby is suffering from colic, they will continue to feed and gain weight. It might also make you feel better to know that you're not alone, so here are what some Mumsnetters have said about colic:

  • “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.”
  • “At about 4pm every day, our daughter starts to cry. 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.”
  • “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!”

How do you treat colic?

Time really is a great healer of colic and most babies are over it by three months old. Even the diehard screamers have called it a day by five months or so. That's nice to know but not much help when you're struggling to calm a colicky five-weeker.

In the meantime, you should try all our regular suggestions for comforting a crying baby, plus these special tips from Mumsnetters who’ve been through colic with their babies and come out the other side. We can't promise that all of these suggestions will help your baby but some may. Let's face it, when your baby's screaming the house down, it always feels better to have something to try…

Help your baby get rid of wind

Colic appears to be connected to wind and giving your baby a massage can help relieve the problem. Stroke her tummy in a clockwise direction then gently bring her legs up to their tummy, by holding her ankles and flexing her knees.

Try sitting her up during feeds so she swallows less air. If you're breastfeeding, make sure she empties one breast before moving on to the other. If you bottle-feed, you could try an anti-colic bottle. Tilt the bottle so that the milk covers the entrance to the teat. Don't forget to burp her well afterwards.

Heard of the “Tiger in the Tree?” This involves holding and carrying your baby belly down, rather than belly up, and is another technique that can help ease trapped-wind.

Another option is to give your baby simeticone drops which are formulated to relieve wind. Try your baby on a one week course of Infacol drops and see if that helps.

Don’t rule out anything that might help (even zany suggestions)

If you feel like you really can't take any more, put your baby down somewhere safe and leave her 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

Sometimes the answer to a problem is so obvious that you overlook it. So you never know, a dummy, or perhaps even just a finger to suck, might be all your baby needs to help her stop crying. Lots of parents swear by cranial osteopathy – the theory is a baby’s skull can get pretty squeezed on its way down the birth canal and needs some gentle ‘rearranging’ after birth. There’s no hard medical evidence to support this but, anecdotally, it has worked for lots of babies, particularly those that spent a long time in the birth canal during labour or had forceps or ventouse used.

If you fancy getting a little more physical then try the “sway and shhh” which is best summed by this Mumsnetter:“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, say 'Ssh!' into your baby's ear really loudly. It must be louder than your baby's cry for him to hear.”

Try excluding cow's milk protein and keep a diary

Some babies do have an (often temporary) lactose intolerance. If you think this is a possibility, you could try a dairy-free diet for a week. 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 explore other related problems, such as reflux.

Keeping a diary of your baby's crying isn’t a bad idea. Note the times when your baby cries excessively, how long each bouts lasts and describe any other symptoms. This might help you to feel that you’re doing something about the problem which will counter your sense of helplessness. Writing can be therapeutic for you and your notes can be useful to your GP (see below).

Mum comforting crying baby

Should I take my baby to the doctor?

To be absolutely clear: the majority of colicky babies are cured by time, as the crying simply eases off and life becomes calmer for parent and baby. In the meantime, though, you might want to take your baby to your GP just to be on the safe side. They will probably confirm that your baby is suffering from colic and recommend the steps listed above. But a doctor’s appointment should help to set your mind at rest.

If your baby exhibits any of the following symptoms then you must take them to your doctor immediately:

  • High-pitched crying
  • Vomiting green fluid
  • Blood in their poo
  • Stops drinking and urinates less frequently

How to cope with a colicky baby

Accept help

Endlessly comforting a colicky baby can stretch you to breaking point. That's why it's important to remember that your baby's crying is not your fault and not being able to help doesn't make you a bad parent in any way. It might seem like he is angry with you (all kind of paranoid thoughts can fill your mind when the child you love is screaming) but it's not true and your baby has no concept of blame.

It can feel agonising to watch your baby cry but, actually, crying might be what they need. Keep rocking them and whispering comforting words. This can be surprisingly effective, even if it doesn't look like it immediately. You can and will get through this.

That said, do accept all offers of help. If you have people around you who offer to help then accept, as sometimes a new and less stressed pair of arms can make all the difference. Getting a break will be good for you so use the opportunity to take a shower, get some fresh air or go for a walk. You'd be surprised how revitalising a little break can be.

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). Also read our advice on Postnatal Depression.

Remember – it will pass

Your little one will get better. Just take each day at a time, and try to look after yourself as best you can.

That's the truth and one day you will be the one offering advice to a new parent with a colicky baby. Until then make sure you avail yourself of the empathy of other women who've been there on the Babies Talk forum.

Mumsnetters' advice for 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.”

“I've found that white noise helps hugely in calming him down. Luckily, I've got a CD of it, so I don't need to have the Hoover on all the time.”

“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. It is very gentle and non-invasive and the baby often goes to sleep.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Talk about how you're feeling with people who've been there. People with 'normal' babies really can't understand.”