Colic: what to do

Colic: what to do

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When you think your baby has colic: what to do

The first step is to take your baby to your GP for a check-up. This will make sure there's nothing physically wrong. It will also reassure you.

Also, a child and family health nurse can check your feeding technique and let you know whether there's anything you might be able to adjust. The nurse can also let you know about settling programs and early parenting centres in your area.

As a parent, it's easy to feel that you have to look after your baby, keep a spotless home, work and do shopping, cooking and all the things you did before your baby came along. This is just impossible. You, your family and your baby will suffer if you're feeling stressed from trying to do too much.

If your baby has colic, it's very important to look after yourself by getting enough rest, sleep and time to yourself. If you make time to care for yourself and get enough rest, you'll be in better shape to care for your baby.

Coping with colic: 10 tips

Crying and fussing is a normal part of development for most babies. It will pass in time. But here are some ideas that might help cut down on how often, how long and how intensely your baby cries and fusses:

  • Check whether your baby is comfortable. See whether his nappy needs changing, or whether he's too hot or cold.
  • Offer a feed if you think your baby might be hungry, or if the last feed was more than two hours ago.
  • Offer a dummy or the breast. Sometimes your baby isn't hungry but wants or needs to suck. If she's 3-4 months or older, you could also help her find her own fingers or thumb to suck.
  • Speak softly to your baby, sing to him or play soft music. He might just want to know you're nearby, and your voice might soothe him. White noise can also be soothing for some babies. You could try a fan, a vacuum, or a radio set to the static between stations.
  • Gently rock or carry your baby in a baby carrier or sling. Sometimes movement and closeness to a parent can soothe babies.
  • Take your baby for a walk in the pram. But note that it isn't recommended to leave your baby sleeping unsupervised in a pram.
  • Try baby massage. This will often calm your baby and help you relax too. It can also strengthen the bond between you and your baby. Your child and family health nurse can teach you how to do baby massage.
  • Give your baby a warm bath. This might settle your baby and help her sleep.
  • Calm things down by dimming the lights, which helps to reduce stimulation.
  • Try to establish a pattern to feeding and settling.

You can experiment to see which strategies best suit your particular situation. Sometimes strategies that work well one day might not work the next day. If one of these strategies doesn't work or stops working after a while, just try another.

These approaches won't magically stop your baby crying, but they might make things easier and more bearable until your baby gets older and can tell you what he needs.

You can't spoil your baby by picking her up, or by cuddling or talking to her. Feed your baby whenever you think she's hungry, and pick her up to comfort her when she's crying.

Other options for colic: probiotic supplements

If your breastfed baby has colic, it might help to start using drops containing the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri. Probiotics are live bacteria that can help to keep the digestive system healthy. It's a good idea to talk with your GP, a lactation consultant or your child and family health nurse if you'd like to try these drops.

Things that probably won't work with colic

Medications and mixtures
Colic mixtures have no logical or scientific basis, because there's no evidence that colicky babies suffer from 'wind' or intestinal spasm. These mixtures aren't recommended as a way to deal with colic.

And although many babies have reflux symptoms, like vomiting, spitting up milk or back arching, there's very little evidence that reflux medication reduces crying and fussing.

Doctors usually don't recommend naturopathic or homeopathic medications to treat colic.

Chiropractic treatment
Chiropractic treatment is unlikely to help with colic, and spinal manipulation can be dangerous for young babies.

Changing mother's diet
If you're a breastfeeding mother, changing your diet is unlikely to work unless your baby is diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance to something in your diet - for example, cow's milk, egg and soy.

And if allergy or intolerance is the cause of your baby's excessive crying or colic, he'll usually have other 'red flags' in addition to colic. These red flags include:

  • diarrhoea, especially with mucus or blood
  • poor weight gain
  • screaming and crying mostly around feeding
  • vomiting (more than just a small amount)
  • strong family history of food allergy
  • other signs of allergy like hives or eczema.

If your GP or paediatrician does diagnose your baby with food allergy or intolerance, you'll need to manage your diet carefully. If you're breastfeeding and you eliminate foods from your diet, you might need to take supplements.

Changing infant formula
True milk allergy is uncommon in babies. If your baby has it, you'd expect to see some of the red flags listed above. If your baby doesn't have these red flags and doesn't have a diagnosis of milk allergy, changing formula (if bottle-feeding) probably won't help with colic. Changes of formula can also be expensive.

If your baby has colic, it's best to try to make her comfortable and help her settle. This is likely to be more effective and less harmful than giving your baby medicine.

When to see your GP about colic

It's a good idea to see your GP early on if you think your baby has colic. If you've seen your GP and you're still concerned about your baby's behaviour, it's OK to talk with the GP again.

You should definitely see the GP again if:

  • the strategies above don't help with your baby's crying
  • your baby seems listless or pale
  • your baby isn't feeding well or gaining much weight
  • your baby has a fever
  • your baby has persistent vomiting or diarrhoea
  • you're afraid you might hurt your baby
  • you're worried for any other reason.

Tests for colic

Investigations like blood tests or X-rays rarely find any problems in babies with colic. The only time your baby would need tests is if the doctor thinks there might be an illness or infection that's making your baby cry.

Prevention of colic

Colic seems to be a common phase that many babies go through. This means it's difficult to prevent.

Very young babies who are carried a lot (using a sling), even when they're not crying, have a tendency to cry and fuss less.