When my son suffered with colic as a newborn, it was one of the hardest things I have been through. I felt completely useless being unable to ease his obvious upset. I spoke to the doctor, the health visitor and anyone else who would listen, only to be told that it's "just one of those things" that some babies go through and that Harry would grow out it by the time he was twelve weeks old.
When I retrained in child sleep, I undertook the most comprehensive and wide-ranging training available, taught by industry-leaders including a number of infant feeding specialists. What I learnt is that whilst colic is common (affecting around one-in-five babies), it is most certainly not something that just has to be waited out - there is always a cause and when that cause is identified and managed, baby will be considerably more settled. Rather than being a diagnosis, I believe colic is more accurately described as a symptom. The question is, a symptom of what?
There are a number of conditions that manifest in the telltale colicky signs of a baby who regularly cries for prolonged periods. These include:
When colic is a symptom of one (or more) of the above, the key to eliminating the colic lies in remedying the root cause.
There are often clues in what some experts refer to as the "timing of the misery" i.e. when the crying occurs. When a client tells me that their little one predictably enters a "witching hour" (sometimes several hours) of crying at a broadly consistent time in the evening and that time is 6pm or later, my first suggestion is to get baby into bed for the night around 15 minutes ahead of that time. Sometimes it is that simple and a little one is simply overtired and overwrought having passed their natural bedtime. This explanation for the "colic" can seem unlikely for parents who associate the crying with their little one being gassy - but I have a theory about that...
Colic is often positioned as being inextricably linked with trapped wind. And undoubtedly this is the driver of the crying in many cases. But what of a scenario when a baby cries for a prolonged period because they are trying, desperately hard, to communicate that they are overwhelmed and/or in need of sleep. It has to be possible that it is during the intense and extended crying that baby takes in air which then they struggle to expel. For a little one crying due to over-stimulation or tiredness, no amount of colic drops are going to solve the problem - which is one of the reasons it is unhelpful to label colic as a single condition.
To help parents understand a little more about how to approach easing their baby's colic, I spoke to colic specialist Becky Palmer of Happy Sleepy Baby. This is what she had to say...
The word ‘colic’ is often said to parents of a miserable baby. Baby won’t stop crying? Colic. Baby constipated and struggling to poo? Colic. Baby arching his back and writhing around in pain? Colic.
How can colic be so easy to diagnose yet every colicky baby seems to have different symptoms? Some babies are constipated whilst other babies have ‘poonamis’ every day, some scream all day long whilst others just cry in an evening. To diagnose colic, health professionals look for the rule of three; is your baby crying for three hours or more, for three days a week over the course of three weeks? Now in my opinion I think this “rule” is completely outdated. Modern medicine has come along so much and knowledge of the infant’s development is now more understood, yet they still revert to this rule to diagnose a baby.
Colic is a collection of symptoms rather than a condition itself. It’s a sweeping diagnosis that is given to babies who cry but otherwise are healthy. In most cases, no help is provided to parents and they are left trying to cope. This leads to parents feeling unheard and unsupported.
Rather than be labelling a baby as colicky we should stop treating the symptoms and think about the real root of the problem. Your baby is crying for a reason and until we know what that reason is, how can we treat a baby successfully and stop the misery? More needs to be done to understand the baby, the family history and see beyond the initial symptoms.
One baby’s colic is different to another’s and this is because it will have a different cause. One baby may be sensitive who is trying to adjust to this new world, and the only way she can communicate her distress is to cry. She has a red face, she clenches her fists and seems inconsolable. This baby’s misery is completely different to a baby who’s body is having an allergic response to milk, and can only tell his parents that he has tummy ache by crying inconsolably.
Not if you ask a family who is in throws of colic hell. It is a complete and utter nightmare of a reality. A family with a colicky baby will feel overwhelmed, helpless, distressed and frustrated. Time should be spent with families to provide them with an understanding of their baby and be given coping mechanisms so that families are not facing this alone. Someone to understand the misery of both the baby and the parents. A listening ear who can not only sympathise but can empathise. Parents should feel supported and nurtured during those first few months of parenthood.
There are many reasons why colic surfaces. This is why having an overarching diagnosis of colic is not helpful. Care and attention needs to be given to families so that a true understanding of a child’s misery can be acknowledged and addressed. It could be the difficulties in settling due to the fourth trimester, it could be reflux, lactose intolerance, digestive difficulties, an allergy or a wealth of environmental issues including being overtired or overstimulated.
Many parents are told that their baby will grow out of it by twelve weeks old but this is not helpful. Twelve weeks is a very long time when you are faced with an inconsolable baby. In some cases those colic symptoms will not disappear at twelve weeks and only then questions begin to be asked.
Colic is a reality but I think we should stop using ‘colic’ as some sort of sticking plaster. It doesn’t help anybody, least of all the miserable baby. Understand the root cause of your baby’s colic and then you can begin the healing.
As a Colic Consultant and Baby Massage expert, I have many years of experience of helping colicky babies and I have helped over 1,000 babies through my baby massage and baby yoga practice. I understand the pain that a family suffers as I have been there myself as a mother to a colicky baby. I have gone unheard and I would not like any family to have to go through the misery that we, as a family, endured. The Colic S.O.S programme is a completely personalised plan which is designed to help families who are in the throws of colic misery. By understanding the root cause of a baby’s colic, the right tools can be used to empower parents to help their baby. The programme also looks to nurture the parents too by equipping them with self-care tools so that they are not neglected during this difficult time.
You can find the Happy Sleep Baby website and read more about the Colic S.O.S. programme here.