Coping with Colic
Colic in babies is a common problem that usually arises when a baby is between 2 and 4 weeks old and lasts until they are around 12 weeks. Whilst colic eases with time and there is no evidence to suggest that it is harmful to babies, it can be distressing and tiring for parents.
What causes colic?
According to NHS statistics as many as one in five babies suffer from colic. No one really knows what causes it but there are several theories. These include:
- Some doctors think that colic is caused by slow bowel movements which means that the air in the baby’s bowel spreads into their intestines and causes them pain
- Some believe that colic is linked to eating too fast, or too much, or the baby swallowing too much air when they feed and being unable to bring the wind up
- A few people think that there are links between diet and colic; whether the mother drinks cows’ milk, for example
- Some mothers see links between colic and other food
- Others have suggested colic is simply the result of extreme overstimulation and tiredness in babies which reaches its peak by the end of the day
- The most common theory is that colic in babies is caused by the baby’s intestines working too hard, causing cramp.
Signs of colic
There are several signs that your baby has colic. But remember that colic isn’t the only cause of discomfort in babies and if your baby is crying excessively for long periods of time and can’t be comforted you should speak to your health visitor or doctor immediately.
Your baby may have colic if:
- His stomach feels hard and swollen
- He cries inconsolably for 2 to 3 hours at a time, often at the same time of day and usually once or twice a day
- He suffers from bowel pains; they show this by pulling their legs up to their stomach and clenching their fists
- His tummy is very noisy and he produces lots of wind
Colic and diet
Some people believe that the mother’s diet can affect breastfed babies. There is anecdotal evidence that stopping eating certain foods whilst breastfeeding can relieve discomfort in babies. The only real way to test this is to try it yourself; you may notice that your baby is more distressed after you have had a garlic-laden meal or a bowl of strawberries. Stopping something for a little while, and then gradually reintroducing it, can help.
Food and drinks that may cause colic or windy babies include:
- Onions and garlic
- Green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage
- Strawberries, apples, plums
- Orange juice
- Products high in caffeine such as coffee, tea and chocolate
If you notice that your baby is better on some days than others it may be worth keeping a food diary so that you can see if a pattern emerges between the food that you eat and your baby’s digestive system. If you think you can see a pattern, try cutting out one thing at a time, leaving a couple of days between changes so that you can see what makes a difference.
What you can do
Colic can be very difficult for parents as they experience a feeling of helplessness. There are a few things that can help and, again, you can use trial and error to see if any of them work for you and your baby. These include:
- Swaddling your baby or holding him close to your chest
- Carrying him around in a sling or rocking him
- Taking your baby for a drive in the car or a walk in his buggy to calm him down
- Soothing music or white noise can help; try singing to your baby, shushing in their ear or putting them in the sling while you do the vacuuming!
- Try massaging your baby’s stomach. This can be both relaxing and can help your baby to pass wind. Move your hand in a circular motion going from left to right.
- Give your baby a relaxing warm bath.
- Have your baby as upright as possible when feeding and wind them regularly.
If your baby is formula fed:
- Try decreasing teat size to slow down the speed at which they drink. You could try changing formula brands to see if there is another one that suits your baby more.
- Try adding lactase drops to their milk (some mums say this has worked for their colicky babies).
Having a new baby can be a difficult and tiring time. Whether or not your baby has colic, try to rest and take time for you too. It may help to take it in turns with your partner to console your baby, and don’t be afraid to accept help from family and friends.
The most important thing to remember is that it isn’t your fault; it helps to know that millions of parents are experiencing the same and it will pass naturally with time. If you do have any concerns about your baby’s health your health visitor will be happy to offer you guidance.
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