Colic happens when your baby, who is otherwise healthy and thriving, cries excessively and can't be soothed. This sort of crying is also called persistent crying, problem crying or part of the period of PURPLE crying®.
Whatever you call it, this kind of crying is likely to be upsetting. Trying to comfort an inconsolable baby over many hours is hard work. At times you may feel helpless. It may be enough to drive you to tears of your own. But you are not doing anything wrong, and your baby usually won't be crying for any particular reason.
This phase of crying is very common and rest assured that it will pass. It usually starts at between two weeks and four weeks and is usually over by the time your baby is three or four months old. About one in five parents find themselves with an otherwise healthy baby who cries uncontrollably. So, although you may feel it, you are not alone.
How can I tell if my baby has colic?
If your baby cries excessively, but is otherwise healthy and feeding well, it's likely that he has colic. Your baby may be diagnosed with colic or persistent crying if:
he has frequent bouts of intense and inconsolable crying
he pulls his legs up to his tummy and arches his back when crying
he cries most often in the late afternoon or evening
Why does my baby cry so much?
All babies cry. Some babies cry a little and some babies cry a lot. Experts studying why babies cry think that colic may just be at the extreme end of normal crying, which usually peaks in the first two months.
At their crying peak, colicky babies cry inconsolably more often and for longer than other babies. However, as the weeks go on, their crying is about the same as other babies
We still don't know why some babies cry so much more than others. Colic is just as common in breastfed as in formula-fed babies and affects girls and boys equally too. Rest assured that your baby is not in pain, and he's not crying because of anything you're doing or not doing.
Your baby could be persistently crying because:
His gut is still maturing, so indigestion and wind are temporarily causing a problem.
He needs a cuddle. Babies that have less physical contact from birth (less than at least 10 hours a day whether awake, feeding or sleeping) tend to cry and fuss more.
How can I soothe my baby's crying?
The persistent nature of colic means that there are likely to be times when your baby cries, whatever you do. Be prepared for soothing methods to work at some times but not at others. If your doctor has ruled out a treatable cause for your baby's crying, you're back to coping with the colic however you can.
Sometimes feeding or burping your baby will work, as babies often cry when they are hungry or need winding, So, try these tips:
Whether your baby is breastfed or bottle-fed, feed him whenever he seems hungry. This is called feeding on demand. Your baby may cry and fuss from hunger if you try to time his feeds.
Tuning in to your baby's signals may help you to recognise his pre-cry cues. You can then offer a feed or sleep before his crying gets more intense. Your baby may move straight into full-blown crying without giving any signals beforehand. If so, try calmly holding him or giving him skin-to-skin contact before he settles to feed.
Burp your baby after every feed. Hold him over your shoulder, sit him upright on your lap, or place him face down on your lap. Then gently pat or rub his back to bring up wind.
In between feeds, your baby may be soothed by sucking. Some babies use their fingers or a thumb. If you are bottle-feeding, you could try using a dummy.
If your baby gets very windy, you could try to prevent him from getting indigestion:
If you're breastfeeding your baby, try to keep him as upright as possible during his feeds to help reduce wind. Make sure he is fully emptying one breast before moving on to the other.
If he is bottle-fed, make sure he isn't swallowing air from the bottle. Try to sit him upright to feed him, and tilt the bottle enough so that the milk covers the entrance to the teat. You could try an "anti-colic" bottle.
Ask your health visitor about a simple over-the-counter treatment. You could try an anti-gas medication (drops containing an ingredient called simeticone), gripe water, or daily drops of the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17931. Try them one at a time. It's fine to stop using a remedy if you've tried it for a week and not noticed a difference.
Other soothing approaches often recreate feelings and sensations that your baby had while in your uterus (womb). Your baby may feel comforted if you:
Hold him close to you so that he can hear your heartbeat. Sit down, relax and take long, slow, breaths out so that your heartbeat becomes slow and regular.
Wrap him snugly. If he's less than a month old, try swaddling your baby in a cotton sheet.
Quieten things down. Lots of activity, being passed from person to person, and bright lights could over-stimulate your baby. He may find it difficult to stop gazing at bright lights.
Try white noise. Repetitive noise or vibrations may recreate the whooshing sounds of being inside you. The sound of the vacuum cleaner, the hair dryer, a ticking clock, white-noise CD or the steady rhythm of the washing machine may work. (Always put your baby on the floor next to the washing machine or tumble dryer, and not on the top.) A car journey will soothe some babies.
Rock your baby. Recreate the swaying motion when you were carrying him by using a sling, rocking him in a swing, or pushing him around in his pram.
Try a warm bath. Your baby spent months bathed in warm amniotic fluid. A peaceful bath in a warm room can calm some crying babies
Always following the same pattern of care may also help. Then your baby will become used to what happens next and be more settled.
For example, every time your baby wakes, offer a feed, then spend some time cuddling or playing with your baby. Follow this up with letting him play on his own, maybe under a baby gym or mobile. Put your baby to down to sleep as soon as you spot signs of tiredness, such as yawning, whining, rubbing eyes or becoming over-active.
If you feel that nothing is helping and you're getting stressed, put your baby in his cot or Moses basket and take a break. Set the kitchen timer for a few minutes if it helps you to be disciplined about giving yourself time out. Looking after your own well-being is a vital part of coping with colic.
Friends and family are bound to be concerned for you and your baby. You're likely to hear lots of theories and advice about what to do. Some suggestions can be hard to follow, such as excluding certain vegetables if you're breastfeeding, while others can be expensive, such as cranial osteopathy.
There isn't strong evidence that any particular soothing technique or "colic treatment" makes much difference to the amount your baby cries. By the time most parents have tried everything, their baby has outgrown his colic anyway!
Should I take my baby to the doctor?
Yes, it's recommended that you seek advice from your GP when the colic or persistent crying starts. Try to keep a note of your baby's crying, feeds and other symptoms to take with you when you visit your doctor or health visitor. This can help your doctor to decide whether something other than colic is causing the crying.
For about one in 10 babies, there'll be something else that is causing them to cry. In these cases, your baby may have other signs or symptoms, such as:
No, colic won't hurt your baby in any way and most babies settle down by the time they are between three months and four months old. In truth, it may be more painful for you and your partner to endure your baby's constant crying. The best thing to do is to stay calm.
Crying that goes on relentlessly, no matter what you do, can put the whole family on edge and lead to frustration, anger and desperation. Some parents and carers find the crying so unbearable that they go on to take actions that they regret.
So, keep calm as you try to soothe your baby. If you feel exhaustion and frustration turning to anger, take a break. Put your baby down in a safe place and walk away for a few minutes.
Remind yourself that your baby's crying is not your fault, and that he won't hurt himself. This is a phase that will pass. Just give it time.