Colic in babies

The word every parent hopes not to hear. Could all that crying be a sign of colic? We can help you find out.

In Newborn

    3-minutes read

    At a glance

    Colic is basically the word for ‘lots of crying’ but it can be caused by many things

    Feeding on demand could be more comfortable for a colicky baby


    Keeping baby upright after a feed can help them

    Baby massage might make them feel better

    What is colic?

    Get ready to hear this word thrown around a lot, even if your baby doesn’t have it, because there’s no test for ‘colic’ and no scientific definition for what it is. The NHS and HSE both give ‘excessive crying’ as the main symptom of colic – although to the baby doing the crying it isn’t excessive of course. Colic is the term used for young babies who cry a lot. It is sometimes defined as outbursts of irritability, fussing or crying that starts and stops without an obvious cause, lasting for 3 or more hours a day and occurring at least 3 days a week, for at least 1 week and with no evidence of growth faltering. It’s thought to be from trapped wind or other pains in their little digestive systems. Most babies outgrow colic by the time they’re four to six months old.

    How do I know if my baby has colic?

    All babies cry, but some cry more than others, this could be a sign of colic. Colic in newborns is one of the most common feeding-related problems, equally amongst breast and bottle-fed babies. A colicky baby is usually under three months old and may show the following symptoms:

    • Intense crying bouts that may go on for several hours without any obvious cause

    • Turning a blotchy red and arching their back while crying

    • Bringing their legs up to their tummy or clenching their fists

    • It is hard to sooth or settle your baby

    • Babies tummy makes rumbly noises or they have a lot of wind

    • Baby is otherwise well with no fever or obvious illness

    If you think your baby is showing signs of colic after the age of three months speak to your pharmacist or a medical professional.

    Man holding newborn baby on his chest

    What causes colic?

    The exact cause of colic is not known but it’s generally thought to be trapped wind. Your baby could be swallowing too much air during feeding, which can cause painful gas. Colic and reflux have been strongly linked to bottle feeding, but breastfed babies can have colic too. Colic reflects the pains that some babies go through as their digestive system matures. If your baby has it, they’re not the first and hopefully when they’re a few months older the newborn colic stage will be a distant blur.

    Newborn baby crying

    How can I help my colicky baby?

    It might not seem easy at first, but as the days go by, you’ll get used to your baby and what helps them best. Things you could try include:

    • Feeding on demand. Smaller, more regular meals might make digestion easier – that’s the beauty of breastfeeding.

    • Burping halfway through feeding as well as at the end of each feed is a good idea for a colicky baby – even if they’re breastfed. Some babies are easily burped, but others take a while.

    • Try different positions and different hand movements when winding your baby and you’ll eventually find your baby’s burp button.

    • Keeping them upright for 15 minutes after feeding. A sling or a carrier might help you around the house if you’re doing things with your hands.

    • A warm bath followed by a soothing massage helps encourage their digestive system to get going. If you want to do baby massage classes, act fast – they’re very popular. If not you can get some free written lessons here. Coconut or vegetable oil make good lotions.

    • Singing, toys or looking in the mirror together are great distractions

    • White noise or even the sound of the vacuum can be soothing

    • If you’re breastfeeding, it is not recommended to make changes to your diet. If you think your diet may be having an effect, you can always note down what you’re eating when your baby’s symptoms occur and discuss with your healthcare professional.

    • Take your baby for a walk in the pram or a drive in the car. The noises and vibrations can often sooth babies

    • Rock your baby with a gentle swaying motion, and try to not over-stimulate your baby

    • Try to sit your baby upright whilst they’re feeding to make sure they don’t swallow too much air

    • If you are bottle feeding tilt the bottle enough so that the milk covers the entrance of the teat, this will avoid your baby gulping air. Read our article on newborn bottle feeding to see the types of teats available to help with colic

    • If you’re formula feeding, speak to your health visitor, GP or pharmacist about suitable specialist formulas designed for babies with colic

    For safety reasons, the NHS advises you to lay your baby on their back when it’s time for a snooze. If your colicky baby isn’t enjoying this, you could try safely propping up the legs of your Moses basket if possible. Adding a bit of an incline can help them sleep on their backs safely and comfortably but the NHS doesn’t recommend sleep positioners or wedges.

    Next steps

    If you feel your baby has colic, it’s important to speak to a healthcare professional, such as your GP, health visitor or public health nurse. Try to keep notes on your baby’s bouts of crying and any other symptoms you may observe as well as their feeds, so you can discuss this with your healthcare professional. Our Careline team are also able to help.

    Feeding issues symptom checker

    Feeding issues symptom checker

    Experiencing feeding issues with your newborn?
    Get help narrowing down the cause with our symptom checker.

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