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How to Soothe Your Colicky Baby

There’s nothing quite as heartbreaking — or as exhausting — as listening to your newborn cry in pain or discomfort. If you suspect your little one is suffering from colic, try these remedies to help ease their symptoms and give you both a more comfortable night’s sleep.

Derived from the Greek kolikos, meaning “suffering in the colon,” colic is the medical term given to an otherwise healthy infant who demonstrates excessive, frequent crying. A poorly-understood yet common condition, colic is thought to affect around one in five babies. Unfortunately, there are no real hard and fast diagnostic rules when it comes to colic. Famed pediatrician Dr. William Sears once treated a baby whose mother wanted him to find out why her little boy was crying so much.

“After I diagnosed her baby with colic, she challenged me. ‘Do pediatricians call it colic when they don’t know why a baby is hurting?’ she asked bluntly. She was right,” he explains. “A gastroenterologist I often work with once confided to me that colic is a five-letter word for ‘I don’t know.’”

Still, as inexact as the science of diagnosing colic is, there are a number of symptoms that doctors look for when evaluating upset infants:

  • The baby cries continuously for extended periods, and does not respond to efforts to console
  • Crying begins at around the same time each day or night
  • Symptoms may begin and end abruptly; they may also cease after a bowel movement or passing gas
  • The baby shows signs of painful gas, such as abdominal bloating or a hard/distended stomach
  • During crying episodes, the baby writhes in pain by arching their back, pulling their knees to their chest, clenching their fists and flailing their arms and legs
  • The baby experiences disrupted sleep patterns

Colic is said to be most common in the first 16 weeks of an infant’s life, and it rarely continues beyond six months of age. Paediatricians frequently use the “rule of three” to diagnose colic: If a baby cries for three hours or more per day, at least three times per week, within a three-month period, then colic is a common diagnosis.

What are the treatment options?

Caring for a baby with colic can be seriously upsetting for mums and dads, as no-one likes seeing their little one in pain. Parents can feel helpless and take on some responsibility for their baby’s distress, but it’s important to remember that your baby’s colic is not your fault. It doesn’t mean your baby has an illness or that you are doing something wrong. Keep in mind, too, that colic is a short-term phase and the symptoms of colic will pass, generally within a matter of months, if not weeks.

Different babies respond to different methods of comforting, so if your tiny tot is suffering from colic, try one of these treatment options:

  • Sit your baby upright: Rather than lying baby down during feeding, sit them upright to prevent them from swallowing air.
  • Avoid caffeine: Drinking too much tea, coffee and other caffeine-containing drinks means caffeine can filter through to the baby if you are breastfeeding.
  • Cuddles: Even if it doesn’t take care of the problem, holding your baby during a crying episode can provide them with comfort and make them feel safe and secure. Snuggling them close at different positions can also help to relieve painful gas.
  • Burp your baby after each feed: Sit your baby upright or hold them against your shoulder and gently rub their back and tummy until they burp. They may spit up a small amount of milk when you burp them.
  • Run a bath: A warm bath with a gentle back or stomach rub may help soothe your baby.
  • Simethicone drops: A supplement you can add to your baby’s bottle or breastmilk before a feed, simethicone drops are designed to help release bubbles of trapped air in your baby’s digestive system, so they may be useful if symptoms of indigestion are contributing to your baby’s colic.
  • Consider probiotics: a new study found that some probiotics (BB-12) were shown to help relieve colicky infants of their symptoms. But, obviously, check in with your doctor about what the best choice might be for you and your baby.
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Image: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

Originally published August 2012.

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