Your complete guide to colic

Colic is a highly common condition that is not very well understood. The most common symptom of colic is uncontrollable crying in a baby for no apparent reason. It can be hugely stressful for parents when their otherwise well-fed and healthy baby cries incessantly and cannot be comforted.

Believed to affect one in five of babies, the symptoms of colic normally start within the first few weeks of life – however they normally resolve by around four to six months. Evidence shows that colic will not have a long-term adverse effects on your baby’s health.

The causes of colic are unknown, but some researchers believe that indigestion or wind may play a big part.

guide to colic

Symptoms of colic

Non-stop crying

A baby with colic will have a very intense and furious cry and her face will be red and flushed. Your baby may clench her fists, draw up her knees or arch her back. The crying is most likely to occur in late afternoon, or evening, and is usually persistent.

When to go to the doctor

If your baby has colic, it is recommended that you contact your GP when the symptoms of excessive crying first begin. While colic is not usually a sign of anything serious, it is important that your GP is aware of your child’s symptoms in case they are the result of less common conditions. For example, they may be the result of eczema (a skin condition), or gastrooesophageal reflux disease (GORD), which is a condition where stomach acid leaks back out of the stomach and into the throat.

Red flag symptoms

A number of signs and symptoms may suggest that your baby is seriously ill. The HSE recommends that you contact your GP immediately if your baby:

  • has a weak, high-pitched, continuous cry (the crying that is associated with colic is usually strong, with a normal sounding pitch)
  • seems floppy when you pick them up > takes less than a third of their usual amount of fluids, passes much less urine than usual, vomits green fluid, or passes blood in their faeces (stools)
  • has a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above (if they are less than three months of age), or 39ºC (102.2ºF) or above (if they are between three to six months of age)
  • has a high temperature, but their hands and feet feel cold
  • has a bulging fontanelle (the soft spot at the top of a baby’s head)
  • has a fit (seizure)
  • turns blue, blotchy or very pale
  • has a stiff neck
  • has breathing problems, such as breathing fast, or grunting while breathing, or they seem to be working harder than usual to breathe (for example, sucking in under the ribcage)
  • has a spotty, purple-red rash anywhere on their body (this could be sign of meningitis)

complete guide to colic

Treating colic

Because colic normally resolves itself after a few months, there are not many treatment options for the condition; however there are some self-care tips that you may find useful to help treat a colicky baby.

Soothing your baby

There is no proven way to comfort your baby and reduce the symptoms of colic but the following suggestions may help:

  • White noise – some infants find the sound of ‘white noise’ soothing. This is the background noise of a vacuum cleaner or washing machine.
  • Burp your baby after a feed – simply burping your baby can help to relieve stomach pain. Sit your baby up and gently rub or pat her back until she burps. Use a cloth to catch any reflux.
  • Gentle movement can help to soothe a colicky baby – going for a drive or a walk in the pram or pushchair can be comforting. Studies have found that overstimulation can aggravate the crying in a colicky baby. Comfort your baby in a quiet, darkened room and if they have been recently fed, changed, and are not too hot or cold, it could help to leave them in their cot for a short while.
  • Massage – Try massaging your baby’s tummy in a backward C motion. Use baby oil or olive oil and gently rub the oil in (but not too hard). Use soft, circular motions.

Feeding tips

Prevent your baby from swallowing air by sitting them upright during feeding.

If you are breastfeeding, avoid drinking too much tea, coffee, and other drinks that contain caffeine. Some women also find that spicy food and alcohol can aggravate colic.

Holes in bottle teats that are too small may cause babies to swallow air along with their feed. ‘Fast flow’ teats with larger, or several, holes are available and may be a useful alternative.

Medical treatments

Contact your GP for advice about possible medical treatments to help colic. Some mothers have found Simeticone drops to helpful in soothing their baby. The drops are designed to help release bubbles of trapped air in your baby’s digestive system, which could be helpful if indigestion is one of the causes of their colic.

complete guide to colic

Osteopath Gideon Seth Ries describes how osteopathy could help to treat a colicky baby.

“From an osteopath’s perspective there are several causes of colic, some are related to different digestive problems and each needs slightly different management. However, a crying baby may have no problem with his or her digestion at all, but be complaining of discomfort somewhere else that is triggered during or after feeding.

During the birth the head, neck , ribs and spine can be squeezed, rotated and twisted. During a C-section you could also add stretching to the vulnerable head/neck area and all of these factors affect the ability of the infant digestive system to do its job.

I would see many babies with reflux and silent reflux. Leakage of stomach contents is prevented by an internal valve reinforced by fibres of muscle from the diaphragm that loop around the oesophagus (food tube). If the diaphragm is distorted then the sphincter will not do its job properly.

A baby was recently brought to me by desperate parents. The birth itself was apparently uneventful, yet on examination, the muscles around the middle and lower rib cage of their baby were tense and there was a slight distortion of the rib cage, which twisted the diaphragm and disrupted the cardiac sphincter. It took two treatments to release the strain and for the reflux to stop and relieve the colic.

In my 23 years of experience as a Cranial Osteopath specialising in treating babies with colic, it seems that colic can also be caused by a retained moulding pressure on the baby’s head from birth. It seems to cause a stress response in the brain which in turn affects the activity of the gut, making it work too fast or too slow.

Babies who are delivered via ventouse and forceps are particularly vulnerable to these pressures. Quick deliveries may also cause persistent overstimulation of the nervous system causing colic. The Cranial Osteopathy approach to treatment is very gentle and works in a way that encourages the tissues to ease and release the strain patterns. This allows your baby’s body to return to a healthier more relaxed state that relieves the causes of colic.”

Gideon Seth Ries DO, LAc, ND, FSCC Oak Clinic, Killaloe, Co Clare

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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.


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Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….