NUTRITION ESSENTIALS

Symptoms, signs and help for soothing your colicky baby

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Key takeaways

  • Around 1 in 4 normal, healthy babies experience colic symptoms at 6 weeks of age.1
  • Symptoms typically peak at 6 weeks of age and resolve by 4 to 5 months of age.
  • Uncontrolled crying and pulling legs up to the chest are key signs of colic.
  • Colicky babies can still feed normally and gain weight.
  • Soothe a colicky baby by holding, swaddling or wrapping them, singing or using gentle music / white noise
  • Get healthcare professional advice to rule out gastric reflux or cow’s milk allergy.
  • If your child is formula fed, and you are concerned about ongoing signs and symptoms, consult your GP about nutritional management solutions for colic.

If there’s one thing babies know how to do, it’s cry! So, how do you know if your baby’s crying is ‘normal’ or whether it could be due to other causes, like colic? Read on to find out more about infant colic, including the signs to look for, tips to help reduce colic episodes, and practical strategies to help you to calm your baby.

What is colic in babies?

The general definition of colic is recurrent and prolonged periods of inconsolable crying, fussing or irritability with no obvious cause that can’t be prevented or resolved. Colic isn’t unusual in babies. In fact, around 25% of normal healthy infants experience colic symptoms at 6 weeks of age.1

Signs of colic in babies

The symptoms of colic can vary from baby to baby. Watch for these common signs so you can take steps to comfort your baby as soon as possible.

  • Frowning or grimacing
  • Reddening of the face
  • Pulling the legs up into the chest
  • Arching of the back
  • Clenching of the fists
  • Extended periods of crying
  • Inconsolable crying
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Extreme fussiness, even after crying has stopped

Colic can be stressful but it’s not harmful

Fortunately, even though episodes of colic and vigorous crying can be stressful to parents and babies, they aren’t harmful. Babies with colic can still feed normally and gain weight. Although colic is a common cause of excessive and prolonged crying, you might like to discuss any concerns with your doctor to help rule out other possible causes, like gastric reflux or cow’s milk allergy.

Tips to try until colic subsides

Babies with colic tend to develop symptoms between birth and 6 weeks of age. Even though it can be distressing to see your baby cry, take comfort that the problem will eventually subside. In the meantime, some simple tips may help reduce the severity or even the incidence of infant colic:

  • Check that any formula being fed is made up correctly
  • Try to stick to a routine for feeding and sleeping
  • Avoid overstimulating your baby before feed time
  • Check nappies more frequently and change them if needed

If your child is formula fed, you can speak to your healthcare professional about suitable specialist formulas for the dietary management of colic.

How to calm a colicky baby

There’s no ‘right way’ to calm a colicky baby and every baby responds differently. Try a variety of these techniques and see what works best for your little one.

  • Try to stay calm when your baby is crying – your stress levels can affect your child’s.
  • Hold your baby during crying episodes and gently rock, pat or massage them.
  • Try softly humming or singing to your child.
  • Swaddle them or wrap them snugly in a blanket.
  • Keep your movements and speech calm and gentle.
  • Darken your baby’s room before daytime naps.
  • Ask friends and relatives with children about what they’ve tried.

REMEMBER:

If you’re concerned about your baby crying excessively or have questions about colic, please speak to a healthcare professional, like a Pharmacist, GP or Maternal Child Health Nurse.References:

  1. Vandenplas Y et al. Functional gastro-intestinal disorder algorithms focus on early recognition, parental reassurance and nutritional strategies. Acta Paediatr 2016;105:244-52.
  2. Better Health Channel. Victoria State Government. Department of Health. (accessed 2022 June 28) https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/colic
  3. The Royal Childrens Hospital Melbourne. Crying and Unsettled babies. (accessed 2022. June 28) https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Crying_and_unsettled_babies/
  4. raisingchildren.net.au The Australian Parenting Website. Colic in babies: what is is & what to do. https://raisingchildren.net.au/newborns/behaviour/crying-colic/colic  Accessed 21 Dec, 2021.
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