How to Cope When Your Baby Has Colic
Colic is excessive crying in your baby and it can be extremely difficult to cope with. We can guide you through with expert information and advice
6 min read
In the same way that a rugby match is all about the final whistle and score, with parenting we can get hung up on the end goal: labour. But the journey doesn’t end when you finally meet your baby. The realities of life outside the womb are just starting.
One of those realities is colic. Whether you’re just being prepared or are in the throes of experiencing it yourself, our guide to everything colic will help.
Learn what it is, how to soothe a colicky baby and – importantly – how to look after yourself during this time.
What is colic?
Colic is when your otherwise healthy baby cries excessively for no obvious reason and is difficult to soothe. ‘Excessively’ means crying a total of 3 hours a day for more than 3 days a week, for at least 1 week.
When does colic start (and end)?
Colic begins when baby is around 2-3 weeks old. It usually ends when they’re between 4-6 months.
What are the causes of colic?
Colic is still one of the great medical mysteries. Theories include that your baby’s gut hasn’t fully developed, making indigestion and wind more of a problem. Or that their gut bacteria is out of balance. Or that reflux, lactose intolerance or cow’s milk allergy is behind it.
None of these theories has been proven – yet. But research into colic is ongoing and one day, we may have an answer!
One thing experts have found is that mums who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have colicky babies.
What are the symptoms of colic?
If you’ve got a healthy baby that’s feeding well but cries excessively, they’ve probably got colic. Signs that baby may have colic include:
- Frequent bouts of intense, inconsolable crying.
- Pulling their legs up to their tummy, clenching their fists and arching their back when crying.
- Crying happening most often in the late afternoon or evening.
- A red and flushed face when crying.
- A rumbly tummy or wind.
Who gets colic?
Any baby can suffer from colic. It’s equally common among firstborn and later-born babies; boys and girls; and breastfed and formula-fed babies.
How do I soothe a colicky baby?
There’s no denying it, having a baby with colic is hard work. Here are some tips to try that may help ease their crying:
- Keep baby upright during feeds and always burp them afterwards.
- Hold them and try gently rocking.
- Play soothing music or white noise. Think the sound of a vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, ticking clock or a white-noise app.
- Dim the lights to create a relaxing, less stimulating atmosphere.
- Take them for a walk in the pram.
- Use a front pack or sling.
- Pop them into a warm bath.
- Give them a gentle tummy rub that involves clockwise movements.
- Try gripe water.
- Change the scenery by taking them outside.
- Consider reducing your caffeine intake if you’re breastfeeding. Some babies can be sensitive to it.
- Let them suck a dummy.
- Take them for a drive in the car. The vibrations from the road might soothe them.
The biggest thing you can do is get some help. Get someone to share some time with you. Even if it doesn’t help the crying, adult company will distract you.
Or, even better, you can rest while they look after baby.
How to look after yourself when you’ve got a colicky baby
It’s so important to look after yourself when you’ve got a baby with colic. Remember that your baby’s colic is not your fault.
- Keep the hours free when you know your baby will need your love and care. Then you won’t be stressed about what you ‘should’ be doing during that time.
- Adjust the household routine to match baby’s needs. 3pm is a perfectly acceptable dinner and bath time.
- Stock up on healthy snacks before you think the colic’s about to kick in. Drink lots of water.
- Ask for – and accept – help. Let someone else hold the crying baby while you rest / watch TV / read a book / do whatever you need to relax for a bit.
- Get in touch with PlunketLine (0800 933 922). Trained Plunket nurses are available 24/7. They may have some advice or just be a sympathetic listening ear.
One of the greatest parenting phrases is: this too shall pass. Hang in there, mama, it won’t last forever. You got this. Keep reminding yourself that this too shall pass.
And it will.
When should I seek help with colic?
If you think your baby has colic, it’s a good idea to see your doctor. They’ll be able to rule out any other issues that may be causing their crying, like an allergy, intolerance, reflux, constipation or wind.
Seek urgent medical help if baby:
- Starts crying differently – it may be weak, high-pitched or continuous.
- Is floppy when picked up.
- Isn’t eating, or is drinking less than normal, or having less wet nappies than normal.
- Has breathing problems – they may be breathing quickly or grunting while breathing.
- Has a fever of 38C (if they’re less than 3 months old) or 39C (if they’re 3-6 months old).
- Turns blue, goes very pale or blotchy.
- Vomits green fluid.
- Has blood in their poo.
And if you are struggling…
Another reason to get help is if the colic is affecting your relationship with your baby, partner or family. It’s completely understandable if you’re struggling to cope with the relentless crying that characterises colic. You’re probably incredibly tired and enjoying all those symptoms that come with extreme tiredness: irritability, lack of concentration…
Visit your doctor or ring PlunketLine for help and advice.