What to do if you think your baby has colic

Crying is a normal part of development in babies, but when babies cry a lot, it is often referred to as ‘colic’. Colic might start a few days or a few weeks after birth, and is characterised by crying that happens often and for long periods, as well as fussing during or after feeds. It can be incredibly upsetting and frustrating for the parent, but please be rest assured that it’s nothing to do with you. The most confident and calm parent can have a baby who cries a lot.

On average, healthy newborn babies cry and fuss for three hours a day, sometimes longer. Crying usually peaks around six weeks of age, and then gradually lessens as they grow. You might find that it happens more during the afternoon and evening, but this can vary each day. It’s only natural for you to worry about your baby’s crying, so let’s look at what to do if you think your baby has colic.

What to do if you think your baby has colic

Is your baby spending long periods grizzling or crying loudly, perhaps drawing their legs up as if in pain? Or do they appear to be hungry soon after a feed, or alternatively, are they fussing at the breast or bottle? Does nothing you do seem to make a difference when you try to settle or calm your baby in this state?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, here is what you can do:

  1. Take your baby to your GP for a check-up.The first step is to ensure there’s nothing physically wrong. Finding out that there’s no underlying medical conditions causing the crying can be incredibly comforting.
  2. See your maternal and child health nurse. Your nurse can watch your feeding technique, or refer you to a lactation consultant, and let you know about programs that might be able to help you with settling.
  3. Make some time to care for yourself. Trying to look after a baby, yourself, other family members, and a home is too much right now. If you’re feeling stressed from doing too much (particularly on very little sleep), everyone will suffer. Read how self-care doesn’t have to be so complicated.
  4. Keep your baby close to you. Gently rock or hold your baby in your arms, sling, or baby carrier. Small babies need a lot of warmth and security. Swaddling your baby in warm clothes and holding them against the steady soothing rhythm of a parent’s heartbeat can sometimes calm the baby’s discomfort or distress.
  5. Reduce stimulation. When they’re unsettled at home, dim the lights, turn off the TV, play soft music or white noise, and take deep breaths to try to calm yourself. Have a warm bath together, or give a soothing baby massage. Some babies can get overstimulated quite quickly.
  6. Take probiotic supplements. If your breastfed baby has colic, it could help to use the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri. Probiotics are live bacteria that can help to keep the digestive system healthy. If you’d like to try these drops, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your GP, lactation consultant, or nurse.
  7. Sucking can soothe and settle. Breastfed babies seek the breast for comfort as much as for hunger or thirst. A bottle-fed baby may seek comfort sucking and a dummy can help. Both breastfed and bottle-fed newborn babies should be fed on demand (ensuring not to overfeed, which can lead to further feelings of discomfort).
  8. Reduce overtiredness. An overtired baby is unsettled, cranky, and much harder to get to sleep. This is why awake times are an important consideration. If you want your baby to be calm, cry less, and sleep better, keep one eye on your baby and one eye on the clock.

Experiment to see which strategies work for your baby, but you’ll probably discover that what works one day doesn’t always work the next. We still don’t know much about what causes colic, but it can help to see this fourth trimester from your baby’s perspective, and be assured that this phase will pass. In saying that, it can be physically and emotionally exhausting, so if you’re not coping, please seek support from your GP, maternal and child health nurse, mother’s group, and ask for help from friends and family.