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Caring for your colicky baby

Caring for a new baby and adjusting to your new life as parents can be difficult. Caring for a baby with colic can be an exhausting and extremely stressful experience. Remember that you are not alone. One in five parents experience colicky babies and it does pass with time. Hang in there - there are much more peaceful days ahead!

What is colic?

The HSE describe Colic as uncontrollable crying in an otherwise healthy and well-fed baby. Babies who develop colic are usually younger than 5 months old, and cry for at least 3 hours in a row, for at least 3 days a week, for at least 3 weeks.

Colic is not a disease and will not cause your child any long term harm. While colicky babies may experience sharp pains or cramps in the abdominal area, they are not constantly in pain or uncomfortable so rest assured that your baby will be okay.

Babies tend to develop colic two to three weeks after birth, with symptoms disappearing around the three to four month mark.

What causes colic?

Babies with colic are otherwise healthy and thriving, and may not be crying for any particular reason. Don’t allow yourself to believe that you are doing something wrong.

No one truly knows why babies with colic cry so much with many theories being presented. One such theory is that the baby’s nervous system and brain are still maturing, and they have not yet learnt how to stop crying once they have started. Other theories suggest that the gut is still maturing and causing problems, as infants with colic have different intestinal microflora to those who do not.

Colic is equally as common in boys and girls. However, babies with mothers who smoked during pregnancy or immediately after, double their chances of having a baby who develops colic.

How can I tell if my baby has colic?

All newborn babies tend to cry a lot. Babies tend to cry when they are wet, hungry, frightened, tired… and the list goes on. However, colicky babies may be crying for no reason at all and will cry for hours without stopping.

Babies with colic tend to cry at the same time each day, usually in the late afternoon or evening. Cries at this time may be louder and higher pitched with episodes starting and ending suddenly.

If your baby arches his/her back, becomes flushed, clenches fingers and pulls his/her legs up to the tummy while crying, your baby may have colic. Colicky babies may show signs of a gassy stomach. While gas does not cause colic, babies often swallow air while they cry causing gas to build up in the stomach.

If you are worried that your baby may have colic, take them to your GP. Doctors will be able to rule out any other causes for your baby’s symptoms. They will check for intestinal problems, urinary infections and ensure that your baby is feeding and growing normally. They will then be able to help you to determine the best cause of action in dealing with your colicky baby.

Fever, vomiting, bloody stools or diarrhea are not caused by colic and medical care should be sought out should these symptoms occur.

How can I soothe my baby’s crying?

There is no clear cut solution to take in order to soothe a colicky baby. All children are different and getting relief for you and your baby may take some trial and error.

However, there are lots of things for you to try:

    • Try placing a (warm) hot water bottle on your stomach and lie your baby down on top so as to allow them to enjoy the soothing, warm feeling against their tummy. Alternatively, try to calm your baby by giving them a very gentle massage.
    • Make some noise yourself. Babies tend to be comforted by sounds resembling those they experienced in the womb. Turn on the hair dryer and treat yourself to blow dried hair for once, or carry your baby in a sling as you do the hoovering.
    • Lie your baby on your chest where they can hear your heartbeat, helping them to calm down.
    • Other babies respond well to quiet, still and dark environments. Experiment and see if your baby responds better to noisy or hushed atmospheres.
    • Go for a drive in the car - babies usually respond well to gentle motion and many parents find car journeys send their kids straight to sleep.
    • Try swaddling your colicky baby in a blanket or cloth. This may help your baby to get to sleep and most importantly, stay asleep. Babies often wake themselves up by twitching in their sleep, which swaddling will prevent.
    • Try giving your baby a warm bath, making sure that the water is not too hot. What feels warm to you may feel hot and uncomfortable to them.
    • If you are breast feeding, you can try to eliminate caffeine, dairy, soy or wheat to see if it has an effect on your baby’s crying. Alternatively, bottle feeding mothers can try to switch up the formula used.
    • Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Caring for a colicky baby can cause parents to feel helpless and depressed. Remember that you need to take breaks. Have a family member mind your baby while you get out for a walk or have a bath. Looking after your own well being is vital when dealing with a baby with colic.

Are there any medical treatments for colic?

According to the HSE, colic normally improves on its own and for this reason medical treatment is not usually recommended. Unfortunately most treatments for colic only have limited effectiveness, but if you are really struggling with your colicky baby they are worth giving a go, one at a time, for about a week.

While many traditional treatments for colic have now been deemed unsafe for young babies, including Dicycloverine and Star Anise tea, there are two options with no reported side effects arising after treatment:

    • Lactase drops - Your baby may be having problems digesting lactose, a sugar that is found in both breast and bottle milk. Lactase is an enzyme that helps to break down this sugar making digestion a lot easier for your baby. Lactase drops can be added to your babies feed.
    • Simeticone drops - These drops are designed to help release bubbles of air that may have become trapped in your baby’s digestive system. Like lactase drops, simeticone drops may also be added to both breast and bottle milk.

If your babies symptoms do not improve, it is not recommended that you persist with any of these treatments for longer than one week.


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