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Baby colic: How to treat and soothe your baby

4 minute read

All babies cry… but some cry more than others! Even though it arises in otherwise healthy children, baby colic can still cause frustration. With that in mind, Vhi Consultant Paediatrician Dr. Caroline Lhopital has tips to give you and your child some much-needed relief…

Colic is a newborn baby crying for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week, for over three weeks. It can be a worrying thought for new parents, but as many as 1 in 5 babies will present with colic. Baby colic is sometimes called persistent crying or “purple crying”, to reassure parents that it is a phase that will pass.

What can parents expect?

The crying will be intense and high-pitched. Your baby may also be red in the face, pull their legs or arch their backs. Colic strikes unexpectedly, so a baby can seem fine one minute and then be crying as if they’re in terrible pain the next. Other colic symptoms include bloated stomach and difficulty passing gas which is thought to be due to all the air the baby is swallowing, rather than a primary cause of colic.

Do we know what actually causes colic?

While there have been a lot of theories around it, like brain maturation or gut microbiota, none of them have been proven. We know it is not genetic or linked to breastfeeding or bottling. Nor has it anything to do with how the mum acts or thinks.

How can it be treated?

Unfortunately, there is no effective, proven medical treatment. Painkillers don’t work, for instance. Occasionally, drops or an easier-to-digest formula may improve the baby’s comfort. Thankfully, colic should resolve without complications. Mostly, time is what works best. Colic peaks around two months and should start to get better around month three or four, though it can linger for up to six months.

When you first suspect colic, you should check with a medical professional just to make sure the baby is healthy and that it is indeed colic.

From there, if you notice a change in crying, if the baby seems out-of-sorts in between crying, if they are not feeding well or if you have any other concerns, it’s good to check back in for peace of mind.

So, what can we do to soothe the baby?

You can try all the usual methods of soothing a cranky baby: holding them, gently rocking them, singing. Playing white noise and swaddling them are other methods that can offer relief. Some of these should work, but not always for a long time and not consistently. A combination of them is often required.

Naturally, it is difficult to see your baby crying and feel powerless to help. We know that the parent’s role is to provide comfort and safety. That can be very demanding, so you need to be in a good place yourself to be able to do that. That becomes difficult when you’re tired or feeling pressure from angry neighbours or well-meaning family members.

It’s important to have support and, where possible, for parents to ‘relay’ the responsibilities. When you don’t quite feel up to it, it is always better to reach out for help, take a break for yourself, and let them cry until you’ve had a chance to breathe or someone else can step in to control the crying.

Are there any major misconceptions around colic?

There are beliefs around colic that need to be addressed, particularly when it comes to milk and breastfeeding. Babies with colic eat well and grow well, so there is no reason to let that affect your feeding choices. Some mums have noticed that excluding the likes of cabbage, broccoli or citrus fruit from their diet helps, but this doesn’t work for every baby. Because these babies cry and eat frequently, it might seem like there’s a connection. But all the studies to date disprove this.

What final advice would you offer parents dealing with colic?

With crying babies, everyone wants to help. They’ll give you all the advice and recipes that worked well for them. When you add this to the fact that colic is so unpredictable and difficult to soothe, it can sometimes feel like others are more capable than you are. Rest assured: this is quite a common feeling to have as a new parent. Parenting is not an exact science, so go easy on yourself, lean on support when you need it, and know that you and your baby will get through all those tears.

This content is for information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from your GP or an appropriate medical professional if you have concerns about your health, or before commencing a new healthcare regime. If you believe that you are experiencing a medical emergency call 999 / 112 or seek emergency assistance immediately.

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