Colic: What It Is And What To Do

Colic. A word that will strike fear into mums and mums-to-be everywhere, and one of the few things capable of blowing a hole in your new-baby bubble. But what exactly is it? Well, rather than a diagnosis, ‘colic’ is a type of behaviour, and refers to babies that cry a lot for no apparent reason. They’re not sick, hungry, wet or tired but are utterly inconsolable for more than three hours at a time, during episodes that occur three or more days a week, hence the term, ‘rule of threes’ [1]. Ultimately it’s something of a mystery and can be maddening, saddening and baffling all at the same time. To help relieve some of the stress associated with colic, here are five answers to common questions, starting with the biggy – does my baby have it?

Does my baby have colic?

As any mother who has dealt with a spell of colic will tell you, if your baby has it, you know about it. But if you’re not familiar with the signs, here’s what to look out for:
– Intense bouts of crying that last longer than three hours and occur three times a week or more
– Unable to settle or sleep easily
– Crying in the late afternoon or evening
– Drawing up knees, arching back and clenching fists
– Cluster feeding

What causes it?

Good question. Unfortunately, nobody knows the exact cause of colic. However, some theories of what’s behind it include:
– Gas
Digesting food is a big task for a brand new gastrointestinal system [2]. As a result, food may pass through too quickly and not break down completely, which can result in gas. In this case, baby doesn’t know how to cope with trapped wind, which often causes them to experience tummy pain. This would explain the prolonged crying and drawing up of knees that’s associated with colic.
– Overstimulation
It’s always surprising how newborn babies have the ability to sleep through a hurricane of noise and activity. This is actually nature’s design as babies have a built-in mechanism for tuning out sights and sounds. However, near to the end of the first month, this mechanism goes, leaving babies more sensitive to stimuli, which causes them to be stressed. As a way to deal with that stress many cry (and cry and cry and cry…). This also explains why colic tends to clear up at around three months, when baby learns how to filter out some environmental stimuli.
– Development
One theory is that it’s a natural development that babies go through as they adjust to all the different sensations that come with life outside the womb.

Is colic normal?

Estimates of the occurrence of colic vary widely, but based on a study by Dr. Morris Wessell, who is credited with creating the ‘rule of threes’ definition, colic tends to occur in between 20 and 25 percent of babies [3]. While the cause is unknown, what we do know is that episodes of colic are equally common among boys and girls and both babies who are breastfed and those who are bottle-fed.

How long does colic last?

For any mums out there currently dealing with a colicky baby, hang in there because most episodes peak at around six weeks and then end as suddenly as they started at around the three-month mark [4].

How can I relieve my baby during bouts of colic?

There are a lot of theories about how to relieve colic, but we are big fans of the Five S’s method, which pediatrician Harvey Karp refers to in his book The Happiest Baby on the Block. The Five S’s include swaddling, shooshing, swinging baby from side to side, sucking on a pacifier, and laying baby on their side or stomach (across your forearm or lap with their head resting on your hand). For some more tips on how to handle colic, click here.



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