Everything you need to know about colic in babies by Fathima Mahomed, London-based paediatrician.
Every baby is different. Every child will have a unique personality and a unique health journey. You and your siblings are different today as grown-ups. You were different as children.
My baby had colic. He cried every night from 5 pm to 9 pm. He was 6-8 weeks old. I rocked him. I carried him. I put him in a sling. I sang to him. I gave him gripe water, simethicone, probiotics, lactase enzymes, and paracetamol, I changed the teat size on his bottle, I changed the make of his bottle, I used a wind relief that is widely sold (per rectally) and a homoeopathic remedy which was a highly recommended remedy that I got imported from the USA.
Nothing worked. I felt helpless. I was sleep deprived, exhausted, confused, and miserable, and didn’t know what I could do to help my poor little boy. I dreaded 5 pm when it came-my baby was happy all day, he was interactive, growing and thriving and meeting all his developmental milestones. But between 5 pm-9 pm, I would not know what to do to help him.
My son’s colic finally resolved just before his 16 weeks vaccinations. The most important thing is that there is hope! Colic does resolve - for some babies, it's around 4 months - most colic resolves at the age of 6 months. Colic is defined as crying for 3 hours of the day, for more than 3 days a week for longer than 3 weeks, in an infant who is otherwise healthy, thriving and well-fed.
What is colic?
20% of babies get colic. But we have no definite reason why colic happens to babies, why it happens to some babies and why some babies don’t get colic at all. The assumption is sucking in of air during feeds or an immature gut, that before a baby was born was sterile with no milk, just amniotic fluid.
What are the symptoms of colic?
Your baby is:
burping or passing gas rectally
red faced when crying
has a belly that looks bulging and tense
your baby is clenching their fists and looking” angry”
your baby is lifting their legs and looks like he/she is writhing in pain
What needs to be thought about in these babies?
What other diagnoses your doctor or health visitor should help you exclude:
a tongue tie (anterior or posterior)
does your baby have gastro-oesophageal reflux disease
does your baby have an upper respiratory tract infection or any infection (urine infection; meningitis; a chest infection)
does your baby have cow’s milk protein intolerance
or other more common/obvious reasons- hunger, a cold baby, a baby who is hot/ overdressed/ overtired baby or a dirty nappy
What can you do to help your baby?
Here are the few tips for the time your baby has colic:
remain calm (as calm as possible) cuddle and soothe your baby
feed your baby upright and not while lying down in a bed.
look at your diet if you are breastfeeding to see if you are eating anything (gas producing foods- dhals/legumes/cauliflower /broccoli etc. in excess) that may be causing excess gas
wind your baby after every feed. Even the late-night feeds (no matter how exhausted you feel)
try distracting your baby (rock in Moses basket/stroll in the pram/ put your baby in a swing/use a white noise machine/ take your baby for a drive-in the car/ play music/ sing)
slowly massage the tummy area after a warm bath (this is not always possible if your baby is unsettled)
offer a pacifier
When a baby has one of these symptoms - it is NOT colic
Be aware of the following signs and symptoms, which are NOT colic-related:
Vomiting or diarrhoea
A rash that is non-blanching or new and is causing the baby to be miserable.
Difficulty breathing or a blocked nose.
A sunken or bulging soft spot on the head.
Red, irritated or itchy skin
Colic is distressing for both parents and babies. Other members of the family (siblings and grandparents) also struggle with their despair at not being able to help the youngest member of the family! My suggestion is to try changing bottle types and all the remedies mentioned above. Every child is different. What works for one baby may not work for another. Seek help from your medical practitioner if you are feeling overwhelmed and just not coping.
Please note - My son made a clicking noise whenever he fed (from birth) and had hiccups after every feed (from birth), he had a tongue tie at birth, I was discouraged from snipping this, and I failed at breastfeeding because of the tongue tie- but I eventually got a tongue tie release done in a private clinic - his colic symptoms resolved within 48 hours of getting this done. So please get your baby checked for a tongue tie. Please note - the later the tongue tie release is done, the higher the likelihood your baby has a dysfunctional suck - so ask for tongue exercises and ways to ensure your baby develops a normal suck.
Fathima Mahomed, London-based paediatrician