As a parent of a colicky baby, it can be tiring & upsetting. Rest assured that it is a common condition & it will get better. Here’s our advice to help soothe those tears

Adjusting to being a new parent can be a stressful time, particularly if your baby cries a lot and you can't tell why. Colic is a common problem that affects around one in five babies and is generally defined as excessive or frequent crying when there is no obvious reason.

If your baby is otherwise healthy, it’s likely they have colic if they cry for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week, for at least three weeks.

Symptoms of colic usually begin when a baby is a few weeks old and stop by four months of age – six months at the latest. Caring for a baby with colic can be upsetting but the problem will eventually pass – it’s usually nothing to be concerned about. Nevertheless, call 111 or speak to your GP if you’re worried. 

What are the symptoms of colic?

• Prolonged and intensive crying – particularly in the late afternoon or evening
• A flushed and red face when they're crying
• An arched back, clenched fists or knees bent towards their stomach while crying

If your baby has colic, they may seem to be in distress, but you should be reassured that the crying outbursts associated with colic aren't harmful. Your baby should continue to feed and gain weight as usual. 

Caring for a baby with colic

Looking after a colicky baby can be hard, especially for first-time parents. It’s important to remind yourself that: 

• You shouldn't blame yourself if your baby has colic – it doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong 
• Your baby will recover – they usually stop getting colic by the time they're four months old and sometimes earlier
• Your own wellbeing is important too, so don't neglect yourself – if you can, ask for help from friends and family and ensure you get plenty of rest

Easing the symptoms of colic

There’s no method that works for all babies with colic, but there are several techniques that can help. These include: 

• Holding your baby upright during feeding to stop them from swallowing air
• Burping them after a feed
• Gently rocking your baby while they're crying
• Bathing your baby in warm water to relax them

Some babies may also get relief from drops that can be added to breast or bottle milk to aid digestion. Another option is a liquid which can be given to babies to help release bubbles of air trapped in the digestive system. Consult your pharmacist or GP for advice about whether these medicines are suitable for your baby. Always read the patient information leaflet which comes with the medicine.

If your baby cries frequently or for a long time, it can cause you to become tense and anxious. Discuss your feelings with your health visitor or GP and seek help from them. Ask for support from your family and friends, if you can. It might also help to speak to other parents who have babies with colic or get in touch with a support group, such as Cry-sis

When should you take your baby to see a GP? 

You may be able to ease the symptoms of colic with the techniques listed above. If they don't work or if you’re concerned about your baby, you should see your GP. They can look for complaints that may cause your baby’s crying. If no other cause can be found, your GP may suggest techniques or medicines to help ease the symptoms. Also, see your GP if you’re finding it difficult to cope or if your baby still has colic symptoms and they’re older than four months old. 

When do colic symptoms need immediate medical attention? 

In rare cases, more serious conditions can be mistaken for colic. You should seek urgent medical advice if your baby:

• Is continuously crying, or if the sound is weak or high-pitched
• Your baby’s cry sounds different from their usual cry

Trust your instincts if you think something is not right with your baby, especially if they have other worrying symptoms.

What causes colic? 

Despite a lot of research being conducted into it, the cause of colic is still unclear. The condition occurs equally often in boys and girls, and in babies who are breast-fed and bottle-fed.

Some research suggests that colic could be caused by excessive movements in a baby's gut. Another theory is that babies with colic may have an imbalance in the amount of bacteria in their gut, which slowly corrects itself over a few weeks. Some (though not many) babies with colic may have an intolerance to cows' milk.

If your baby is exposed to smoke or nicotine, they may also be at greater risk of developing colic, as well as a variety of other problems. Your GP or pharmacist can offer you advice on how to stop smoking.

What else could it be? 

There might be other reasons causing your baby to cry. It could be that they: 

• Have a dirty nappy
• Are hungry
• Are too hot or too cold
• Have wind
• Have reflux

• Have constipation

If you’re unsure why your baby is crying frequently, it’s best to speak to a health visitor, call 111 or see your GP. 

Next steps 

• If your baby cries frequently and excessively, use techniques such as holding them during a crying episode or gently rocking your baby over your shoulder
• If the crying doesn’t ease with time and by using the methods listed above, consult your health visitor or GP, or call 111 
• Seek immediate medical attention if your baby is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above or if you’re worried