Colic and its impact on maternal mental health

Colic is a term used to describe when an otherwise healthy and well-fed infant cries excessively over long periods of time. It’s not a medical condition and no one knows what causes it. What it seems to be is a baby whose nervous system is overwhelmed.

If you have a colicky newborn, you already know how unbelievably hard, frustrating, exhausting, and distressing it is to hear your precious little one frequently crying and screaming, and usually nothing you do seems to help.

So much of the talk around the topic focuses on the baby. Feeding, sleep, and ways to settle them during bouts of crying. Less emphasis is on how it impacts the mother’s mental health.

Once medical causes have been ruled out, the same support, love, and care should be aimed at the mothers as is given to colicky babies.

Here we look at the toll colic takes on mums, and then we offer practical tips and coping strategies for parents dealing with colic.

Colic and its impact on maternal mental health

For many mums, it can feel as though colic robs them of the opportunity to enjoy the newborn bubble. Here are just 8 of the ways that colic impacts a mother’s maternal health:

  1. It can make it hard for a mother to provide the care for her baby and for herself that she would like to.
  2. It can lead to intrusive thoughts and regular feelings of frustration, helplessness, isolation, and stress.
  3. It can affect a mother’s confidence as a parent and her ability to bond and connect with her baby.
  4. It can increase the risk of postpartum depression, anxiety, and rage.
  5. It can affect her ability to sleep, eat, and relax, feeding into a negative cycle of maternal mental health challenges.
  6. It can make mums feel guilty, that they’re doing something wrong or failing their baby.
  7. Even after the colic and crying has resolved, mothers continue to have higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. They can require time to recover from the experience.
  8. It can be traumatising to the point of parents choosing not to have subsequent children.

Coping strategies and support for parents

It often doesn’t help to tell a mum that colic is common and temporary. Even if you were told that it will pass in another two weeks, that can seem an eternity when you’re in the dark depths of crying and stress.

What it comes down to is the absolute importance of seeking practical support from family and friends, joining support groups, and seeking professional help. You definitely shouldn’t try to navigate this alone.

Recognise how hard it is, how much of a toll it’s taking on you emotionally and physically, and then address it.

Keeping quiet about it, trying to soldier on without respite is completely unfair to you. You wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, and you would help a friend if they were going through it. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re struggling to someone you know or a professional.

This isn’t your fault, mumma. It has nothing to do with anything you’re doing and not doing.

You can get help and support from various sources to cope:

  1. Get a referral through your GP to a therapist that specialises in maternal mental health.
  2. Join online communities and forums (like Newbornbaby) for advice and to connect with other mums who are having or had a similar experience.
  3. Join local in-person or online parenting groups, such as the council’s new parents’ group or a playgroup.
  4. Ask for and accept all offers of help or a shoulder to cry on from anyone you know and trust.
  5. Check out our mental health wellness tips for new mums and try some of our tips to treat colic from paediatrician and best-selling author, Dr Howard Chilton.


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