Infant Colic

A crying, unsettled baby can be stressful for the whole family.

What is colic?

An episode of colic is very different from ordinary crying. Colic is a condition marked by recurrent episodes of prolonged crying and irritability in an otherwise healthy infant. During the episodes, which can occur day after day, the baby is usually inconsolable.

Colic is common, with about one in five babies expected to experience it. In most instances it reaches a peak at about six weeks of age and after about 5-6 months it typically begins to diminish.

What causes it?

While there are many theories, the exact cause of colic is not known. In the past it was thought to be related to the baby’s gastrointestinal tract.

There is however, evidence, to suggest that tobacco smoke may contribute to episodes of colic. While the reason is unclear, tobacco smoke in the home can result in colicky behaviour. So it is best to always try to keep any tobacco smoke out of the home and away from your baby.

What are the signs?

  • Extended crying, turning to screaming, in a baby who is otherwise healthy
    Babies who cry for at least three hours a day, for at least three days a week.
  • Clenched fists, red face, furrowed brow, knees pulled up and general increased activity while crying.

What Can you Do?

Here are some tips you can use to help your baby.

  • If breastfeed, work with your health professional to continue.
  • If you are bottle-feeding, limit air intake via the teat as much as possible – try an anti-reflux system and make sure you burp your baby properly.
  • Don’t change infant formula without seeking the advice of a healthcare professional and make sure you use the correct scoop and quantities of powder and water.
  • Discuss with your doctor about possible treatment options. There is emerging evidence that certain probiotic strains might help reduce crying and colic.
  • Massage your baby’s stomach gently in a clockwise direction, place a warm heat-pack wrapped in a towel on their tummy (warmth is excellent for relieving pain);
  • Give your baby a warm bath.
  • It is important to note that sucking calms intestinal pain and your baby will want to feed all the time. The risk is your baby overfeeds, resulting in more stomach discomfort.

Luckily colic usually improves with age, with most babies growing out of it completely by the sixth month.

Infant settling techniques, such as cuddling, massage, soft singing or gentle rocking may be helpful. Keeping to a consistent method of settling can also help.

In a small number of cases a breast-feeding mother may be advised to avoid dairy products under supervision. For the bottle fed baby try switching to a hypoallergenic formula. Discuss this with your healthcare professional before changing your baby's diet.

This is a stressful time for not just baby but parents as well - so do endeavour to get some support from family or a friend so you can have some time out. It will be very beneficial to you, your partner and your relationship.

Seek healthcare professional advice to exclude medical reasons for excessive crying.

This section is for your information only and is not intended to take the place of medical advice. See your doctor or another healthcare professional for advice specific to your baby.