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What is colic?

Sep 27, 2022

You’ve probably heard about the dreaded colic but what actually is it? Do all babies get it? How long does it last? How can I help my baby?  Are there any treatments for colic?  You’ve probably got lots of questions.

In simple terms colic is when you baby cries a lot more than you would expect, for no obvious reason.   But what’s normal new born crying and how do you tell if it might be colic or something else.

Has my baby got colic – Checklist

  • My baby is younger than 4 months old
  • My baby cries for more than three hours a day, for more than 3 days a week for at least a week
  • My baby is otherwise physically healthy, is gaining weight, feeds well, has lots of wet and dirty nappies
  • It’s hard to soothe or settle my baby – nothing seems to work
  • They go red in their face when crying, clench their fists, draw their knees up to their chest and or arch backwards

If your shouting, ‘Yes’ that’s my baby! They may have colic.

But what does this actually tell us?  A diagnosis of colic is basically telling you that your baby is unsettled, cries and a lot and seems uncomfortable.   But you want to know why? And what is the treatment for colic?

In short no one really knows what causes colic.  We do know colic is common and usually self resolves at 3 or 4 months of age.  It is likely to be related to gut immaturity and your baby getting used to the outside world and learning to digest.

There isn’t really a ‘treatment for colic’, as it often self resolves. But there are some simple things you can try to help keep your baby as comfortable as possible – read on.

Could it be something else other than colic?

Several things, that aren’t colic or gut immaturity, can cause your baby to cry excessively and be very unsettled.

  • Reflux

This is a bit like having indigestion.

The valve that keeps milk in your baby’s tummy doesn’t always work as well as it could and so milk and stomach acid ‘reflux’ back up.  This might result in vomiting, but not always.

Silent reflux is when babies reflux but don’t vomit and swallow it back down again.

It often causes pain, arching backwards, unsettled behaviour, excessive crying, dislike of being laid on their back, fussing with feeds and even food refusal sometimes.

Other signs of silent reflux are swallowing between feeds, very bubbly salvia, or pulling a funny face as if they have bad taste in their mouth.

Like colic, it often resolves with time as the valve gets stronger but it can be difficult to ‘sit it out’.   When your baby is struggling in pain it can be very wearing emotionally for you as parents too.

You can speak to your GP about treatment with medications.

Mechanical factors in your baby’s body can influence and exacerbate reflux too. Osteopathic treatment could help to ease this tension may help them to feel more relaxed and comfortable as their digestive system matures.

Reflux can also be linked to poor feeding technique and allergies/intolerances.

If you are concerned, especially if your baby is struggling to gain weight – please speak to your GP or get support from a lactation consultant if feeding is a concern.

  • Poor feeding technique – excess wind and reflux

If your baby is struggling to feed either breast / bottle, then they could become unsettled.  This may be through hunger or other associated issues.

Check that your baby is having multiple heavy, sodden nappies throughout the day, that they are opening their bowels, that they are gaining weight and seem satisfied after their feeds. If they are doing all these things well then, they are very likely getting what they need.

However, if you are finding:

  • latching your baby difficult (breast / bottle)
  • your baby takes a long time to feed – every feed (they will cluster feed or have some feeds longer than others)
  • if breast feeding is painful for you (and or you are getting nipple damage/bleeding/blistering)

……..then you may have a feeding issue.

If you or your baby is struggling with feeding it can lead to excess swallowing of air and in turn wind and reflux.

Getting support with feeding is essential if you or your baby are struggling.  Speak to your health visitor, lactations consultants and feeding support groups who have a wealth of knowledge to help.  They can help you at access the right treatment and support. (see resources below – inc. feeding blog link it here)

 Mechanical issues with your baby’s neck or jaw may benefit from osteopathic treatment, alongside breast feeding support.

  • Trapped wind

Trapped wind, like colic, is also common in babies and can make them uncomfortable and lead to excessive crying.  Their tummies are practicing to digest food and getting that wind out.  It should improve as they get older.

It’s not necessarily because they haven’t burped enough. Digestion generates gas within the lower gut, which can get trapped, it’s not just the air that they have swallowed.

Tummy massage and leg cycling can help.

It can be linked to poor feeding (see section above) or allergies / intolerance too (see below)

  • Allergy / Intolerance

Allergies and intolerances are less common but can cause babies to be very unsettled and uncomfortable.

Things to look out for are:

  • excessive vomiting with every / most feed
  • blood / mucous in your baby’s poo/ very loose /watery poo
  • skin rashes / eczema over their body
  • refusal of feeds
  • occasionally failure to gain weight, if it becomes a real problem

It might be more likely if there is a family history of allergies/ intolerances/ asthma/ eczema/ hay fever.

If you are concerned about allergies/intolerances then please speak to your GP before limiting your own or your baby’s diet.  If your baby does have an allergy / intolerance then there is support for dieticians available as well to ensure nutritional needs are met.

  • Other

Excessive crying, a baby who won’t settle and seems in pain or very distressed, may be unwell.

If you are concerned at all about your baby’s crying, if something doesn’t seem quite right or if there has been a sudden increase in your baby’s pattern of crying, then seek medical attention straight away.

Things to be especially cautious of are:

  • If your baby is struggling to gain weight or losing weight
  • Your baby won’t feed
  • Projectile vomiting
  • Vomiting that is brown, green, blood streaked (anything that isn’t white / clear)
  • Your baby has a reduction in wet nappies or no wet nappies
  • A significant change in dirty nappies – the presence of blood, mucous or anything that looks like a red currant jelly
  • If your baby has a high temperature or seems unwell, lethargic / floppy

Please seek immediate medical attention.

How can I help my baby with colic?

As we said earlier, there isn’t really a treatment for colic, but there are a few things that might help.

If you feel you baby is fit and well but just seems unsettled these simple techniques might help

  • Hold, soothe and talk and sing to your baby
  • Keep them upright after feeds for 20-30 mins
  • Ensure your baby is well winded (even breast-fed babies may still need to be winded)
  • Give them in a warm bath
  • Take them for a walk in the pram or sling
  • Try white noise – lots of great apps you can get on your phone
  • Tiger in the tree position can hep to soothe babies. This means lying your baby on their tummy along your forearm – supporting their head with your hand. Let their limbs hang down either side of your arm – like a tiger lying on a branch.
  • Tummy time may help to ease digestive discomfort. As long as your baby is awake and supervised, they can be laid on their tummy at any age.

It’s tough for parents too and that’s OK

Having a baby with colic, or something else that makes them unsettled,  can be tough!  Don’t forget you may need help and support too and that’s OK.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help, you’re be amazed how many people have been where you are.

Ask someone to watch the baby for you while you get a break.

Tell your partner/ friends/ health visitor of GP if you are struggling to cope, they won’t judge you and will be able to help.

Don’t be afraid to admit you need help or support.  It doesn’t make you a bad parent – quite the opposite, looking after yourself is the best thing you can do for your baby with colic.

Seeing a specialist paediatric osteopath

Specialist paediatric osteopaths are highly trained to gently use their hands to asses for any physical tensions in your baby’s body which could be making your baby feel uncomfortable.

Gentle techniques can ease these tensions and help your baby to feel more relaxed and comfortable and support them as their body matures.

Babies & Children | Cranial Osteopathy | 24/7 ONLINE Booking (cheadleosteopathy.co.uk)

Cranial Osteopath | Treatment | 24/7 ONLINE Booking (cheadleosteopathy.co.uk)

Resources

Support For Crying And Sleepless Babies | Home | Cry-sis

The UK’s leading charity for parents | NCT

Feeding support

Breastfeeding help and support – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

La Leche League GB – Friendly breastfeeding support from pregnancy onwards

Lactation Consultants of Great Britain – Charity (lcgb.org)

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