Colic is something I am often asked about. It is a rather enigmatic condition, by which I mean that a lot is still not known. However parents whose baby has had colic, knows exactly what it means – crying – a lot.
So what is colic?
The NHS (2007) defines colic as ‘repeated episodes of excessive and inconsolable crying in an infant that otherwise appears to be healthy’. That baby is most likely to be less than 4 months old. What colic ‘is’ has yet to be truly identified with suggestions including tummy problems to the extreme of normal crying behaviour.
How do I know if my baby has got colic?
The accepted guide is that a baby with colic will cry for more than 3 hours in 24, on at least 3 days a week, for at least 3 weeks. Interestingly this ‘rule of 3s’ was first put forward in the 1950s by Wessel (1954) and is still used today.
Do many babies suffer from colic?
Colic is common but the actual prevalence is hard to pinpoint. A review of a number of studies suggests that 5 – 19% of babies suffer colic, however when the reviewers took into account studies that they considered to be ‘low quality’, the prevalence increased to up to 40% (Luccassen 2001).
Is colic a feeding or nutritional problem?
Babies with colic often appear to be uncomfortable, sometimes drawing up their knees, passing wind and looking red in the face and many parents certainly feel there is an association with feeding. Luccassen (2001) and Critch (2011) state that colic rates are equal between breast and formula fed babies, there is no evidence that changing feeding methods helps and it is not a reason to stop breastfeeding. However babies with allergy or intolerance may present with colic like symptoms.
What can parents do?
Remember colic is a condition found in healthy babies so if you have concerns discuss your baby’s health (including possible allergies) with your health visitor or GP. Check other reasons for crying such as hunger, thirst or dirty nappies.
Crying really affects parents, and we all have a different threshold to how much crying we can take! In a large European study a relationship was found between postnatal depression, colic and prolonged crying, (Vik 2009), however what came first is up for debate! If your baby is crying excessively though, get help from friends, family or speak to your health visitor, who can offer support and also assess you for postnatal depression. Try to remember it is not you or your baby’s fault, and it does last for a limited time. Don’t direct feelings of frustration at your baby, if you’re feeling very stressed put your baby in his/her cot and leave the room for a few minutes.
Wind your baby during and after feeds, perhaps try smaller, more frequent feeds to see if that helps. If you are using a bottle ensure the teat flow is fast enough.
There are products you can buy to help with colic although trials tend to produce mixed results, so it’s a case of trying them to see if they work for your baby.
Try to find a way to help your baby relax – baby massage, being pushed in their buggy (you don’t have to go out, just push back and forth), a drive in the car, a bath, being walked around, using a sling or a dummy.
Discuss any concerns about feeding or possible allergies with your health visitor.
Cry-sis is an organisation that supports parents who have babies that cry excessively and they can be contacted on 08451 228 669 or visit their website for further information.