A Crying Baby - Could It Be Colic?

How Would I Know if My Baby Has Colic?

It can be difficult to know with certainty if colic is the true cause for a baby’s crying, because making a diagnosis of colic is a bit less clear. That’s because colic refers to a range of symptoms, many of them less obvious than other baby issues. Colic is the term given when healthy and otherwise well babies cry a lot.  When no other cause can be found for crying in babies aged from 0-3 months of age, colic is often given as the reason.

Why Is My Baby Crying?

It’s normal for babies to cry. Some cry more than others, making them a little more challenging to care for than babies who are quieter.

We cannot change a baby’s personality or their temperament. How a baby relates to the world is purely individual. They are too young to have learned how to communicate their distress. Crying is the only way in which babies can send a signal to the world that they are unhappy. 

Just as each baby is unique, so is their cry. The pitch and intensity of a baby’s cry is dependent on many factors.  When babies are tired they tend to grizzle more, with pauses in-between as they respond to soothing. Hard intense crying, where the baby is not responding to usual comforting techniques, can be particularly difficult to listen to.

Although there are many reasons for a baby to cry, our responses tend to be the same.

  • Check your baby’s nappy and change them if needed.
  • Consider when your baby last had a feed. Breastfed babies can demand more frequent feeds than babies who are formula fed.
  • Hold your baby so their head is up on your shoulder. Pat their back at about the same rate as your own heart rate. Focus on trying to stay calm. 
  • Give your baby a deep, warm bath.
  • Rock, hold and swing your baby in a rhythmic and soothing way. Avoid sudden, fast movements which could stimulate them more.
  • Place your baby in their pram, a sling or a pouch and go for a walk.
  • Hold your baby across your lap so their tummy is against your legs. Sway your legs from side to side.
  • Put some soothing music on. 
  • Ask another trusted adult to hold your baby. Sometimes babies respond to changes of caregivers, even for a short time.

What’s Reassuring to Know About Colic

  • Almost always, babies outgrow colic by around three months of age.
  • Colic does not hurt or harm the baby in anyway.
  • Colic is not a sign of illness. It’s purely about the baby’s behaviour, not an indication of something more serious.
  • Colic is not a sign that the baby will have ongoing gut or digestion problems.
  • Eventually, babies with colic do calm. They settle, they do go to sleep and importantly, they do stop crying. Your job is to stay calm and comforting, which may at times, be very difficult.

Classic Signs of Colic

Colic is defined by ‘the rule of threes’. Healthy babies who cry for three hours (or more) each day, for three days (or more) of the week, for three weeks (or more) are said to have colic.

Physical Symptoms of Colic

  • Going red in the face
  • Pulling up their legs as if they are in pain
  • Stiffening their body including their arms and legs
  • Grimacing their face and closing their eyes
  • Times of quiet calmness and then crying with gusto
  • Tummy grumbling and straining as if they want to poo
  • A distended tummy and passing wind

What’s Important for You?

As much as we love our babies, we cannot control their behaviour. We cannot make them go to sleep or even calm when they’re crying.  Managing our own responses to their crying is however, under our control.

  • Stay calm. Focus on some deep breathing and mindfulness techniques. Babies ‘pick-up’ on their parents emotions so be mindful of the messages you’re giving.
  • Know when to walk away and have a break. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your baby’s crying, place them in their cot and walk away. Phone a friend, ask your partner for help or ring a child health line for support.
  • Have your baby checked by a qualified nurse or healthcare professional if you are ever concerned or worried about your baby.

Remember, most babies outgrow colic behaviour by around three months. There is no way to ‘fix’ colic but rather, the answer lies in supporting the baby until they are a little older and their nervous system has had some time to mature.

Remember

Always speak and check with a qualified nurse or healthcare professional to seek help and advice on how to manage your colicky babies or if you are ever concerned about the well being of your baby.