Signs of colic and 12 ways to soothe a colicky baby

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Signs of colic - how to soothe baby colic - symptoms of baby colic - baby colic relief

Colic. Such a tiny word but one that can have an almighty impact. On all your lives. It can help to understand what colic is, the telltale signs of colic and to be armed with top tips to get you through.

What is colic?

If your baby cries inconsolably for hours a day (often in the evening) and you have ruled out all the common causes for crying, including:

  • Hunger
  • Wet soiled nappies
  • Tiredness
  • Illness

then your baby could have colic.

Colic can be defined as:

episodes of crying for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, for three weeks in an otherwise healthy child.

It is thought to be a result of severe pain in the abdomen caused by wind or digestive problems in the intestines, suffered especially by babies.

It usually starts a few weeks after birth and can continue for a few weeks or months afterwards.

If your baby has colic you will probably notice a pattern where they cry for several hours each evening and nothing you do seems to soothe them. It can be exhausting for you both and it can really pull a cloud over the first few months of parenthood.

The frustrating thing is that it’s not known what exactly causes colic and why some babies suffer from it. It’s thought to happen because some babies find it hard to digest their food (baby milk) when they’re young.

Any baby can get colic. Breastfed babies can get colic as much as bottle fed babies and it happens to about the same number of baby boys as girls.

 

Signs your baby might have colic

  1. Your baby cries intensely and furiously, often at the same times each day.
  2. Colic crying episodes often occur in the late afternoon or evenings.
  3. Your baby might have clenched fists, draw up his knees and arch his back as he cries.
  4. Your baby’s sleep might be interrupted as they cry with colic pain.
  5. Your baby might want to feed but then look distressed afterwards and cry.
  6. Your baby might seem windier during their crying periods.

When does colic start and when will it end?

Colic can start anytime in the first few weeks after birth.

It usually starts when your baby is about 3 weeks old and usually stops by the time they’re 6 months old.

Colic often ends as suddenly as it begins. It can be like a magic switch.

One evening you will notice your baby isn’t crying and suddenly the colic is gone. Hold onto that fact and know that colic is temporary. It’s tough but one day soon you’ll have got through it.

As colic involves long periods of crying, it’s always advisable to see a doctor if you suspect your baby has colic. Most importantly they need to check that your baby is otherwise healthy and that she is indeed suffering from colic as opposed to another more serious health concern.

Your doctor may also have suggestions on how to soothe the colic such as recommended baby formulas (if formula feeding) or adjusting your diet (if breastfeeding).

How colic takes its toll

Colic is tough for the whole family. It often happens at the end of the day, when your own energy levels are drained. It can be tougher still to endure your baby’s crying and distress when you are at your lowest ebb.

Parents are also wired to react to their baby’s cries. Their crying causes your stress levels to rise. If you can’t soothe them, your own stress levels remain high for hours on end.

Find out exactly what happens to a mum’s brain when your baby cries here.

Colic is tough on both you and your baby but here are some top tips to get you through.

Top tips to cope with your baby’s colic

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Signs of colic - how to soothe baby colic - symptoms of baby colic - baby colic relief
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Take turns

If your baby cries for hours each evening then you’ll need a bit of time out. Share the load and take turns to be with your baby when they cry.

When you get a break it’s often best to head out for a short walk to get away from the crying. If you’re a single parent then rope in help from family and friends to get you through.

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Signs of colic - how to soothe baby colic - symptoms of baby colic - baby colic relief
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Put on some white noise

Many colicky babies can be soothed by white noise. They might respond to hearing a hoover going or a hair dryer blowing. You can also download apps on your phone to play white noise that might soothe them.

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Signs of colic - how to soothe baby colic - symptoms of baby colic - baby colic relief
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Try colic drops and remedies

Many parents swear by Infacol drops given before a feed to ease colic or Dentinox.

The more expensive remedy Colief can help ease colic pain and crying too. It’s worth trying some remedies out to see if they give your baby some comfort.

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Signs of colic - how to soothe baby colic - symptoms of baby colic - baby colic relief
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Try different bottles and teats

If you are bottle feeding you can try using special anti-colic teats and bottles. There are many different ones to choose from.

You could try a couple to see if they make any difference.

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Signs of colic - how to soothe baby colic - symptoms of baby colic - baby colic relief
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Try a different formula

Nowadays there are special formula milks available, which claim to be gentler on a colicky baby’s tummy.

Many brands have a ‘comfort’ milk that you might want to switch to. If you do switch formula then try any new formula for a few days at a time to see if it makes things better.

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Colic soothing holds

Many parents find that if they hold their babies in a certain way it seems to ease colic pain.

Try holding your baby across your shoulder and patting their back or bottom in a regular rhythm. Or lie them tummy down across your knees.

Alternatively you could lie them on their backs, cycling their legs in the air. Or try the ‘colic hold’.  

Position your baby so that his stomach rests on your forearm and his head is supported in the palm of your hand or the crook of your arm. The Tiger in a Tree pose is also sometimes helpful for colicky babies. This mum shows how to hold baby in this way:

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Signs of colic - how to soothe baby colic - symptoms of baby colic - baby colic relief
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Try a sling or baby carrier

Your baby might be soothed if you pop him in a sling or papoose and walk him wither around the house or outdoors.

Walking outdoors can also give you some space and a bit of a break as crying always sounds lessened in the big outdoors.

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Signs of colic - how to soothe baby colic - symptoms of baby colic - baby colic relief
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Good vibrations

Some colicky babies are soothed by vibrations. You can buy baby swings that vibrate or rock your baby back and forth.

Some babies like to be held and swung gently backwards and forwards in your arms. Even holding them and rocking on a rocking chair can provide relief too.

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Signs of colic - how to soothe baby colic - symptoms of baby colic - baby colic relief
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Wrap him up tight

Some colicky babies find comfort by being swaddled. Wrap him up in a blanket, making sure you don’t cover his head or over his shoulders.

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Signs of colic - how to soothe baby colic - symptoms of baby colic - baby colic relief
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Provide warmth

A warm bath or a warm flannel placed over your baby’s tummy might relax baby’s stomach and provide some relief.

Do not use hot water bottles for babies as they can lead to overheating.

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Signs of colic - how to soothe baby colic - symptoms of baby colic - baby colic relief
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Cranial osteopathy

Some parents find that cranial osteopathy can help relieve colic pain. An experienced cranial osteopath will very gently massage and manipulate your baby’s skull to release tension.

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Signs of colic - how to soothe baby colic - symptoms of baby colic - baby colic relief
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Remember it won’t last forever

However tough it seems right now, this is a phase and it will pass. You and your baby will get through this.

Colic is hard

It’s hard to deal with colic. It’s so stressful to watch your baby in distress and to hear them cry, especially when you can’t soothe them.

It’s also exhausting to go through hours of crying each evening, when you’re tired too. You might try different ways to help your baby and find that not much works for long.

But remember that colic does end. Your baby will not be affected in the long term by colic and you will all get through it eventually.

Get as much support and help as you can to get you through. If your baby cries and can’t be soothed then it won’t make any difference who is there trying to soothe them as they do. So take time out and regroup.

Let your mum/sister/friend/brother/neighbour take a turn and when they do, escape the house and rest if you can.

One day colic will end as quickly as it began. Until then keep trying different things to bring your baby relief, get plenty of breaks and keep on keeping on.