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Colic: myths and 'cures'

4 Myths About Baby Colic & More Valuable Information to Know

Has your little one suffered from colic? You'll know it when you see it.

Often babies that suffer will cry for prolonged periods around the same time each night, and nothing seems to soothe the poor little souls what-so-ever.

Colic can be so hard to deal with for the rest of the family too, and seeing your tiny baby crying inconsolably can be a tough thing to witness. Lots of parents feel helpless, and this is quite normal, especially since there are so many conflicting theories based on what causes colic and how to 'cure' it.

Some doctors maintain that there actually is no cure for colic, while some parents swear that they managed to find some relief. We've done a little research of our own, so here is our two pennies worth on colic, its myths and its 'cures'.

What is Colic?

The official definition states that colic is severe abdominal pain that is caused by wind or another blockage in the intestines. Mostly suffered by babies, who unfortunately cannot tell us where the pain is, how bad it feels and what helps to relieve it. A baby can only cry, and this is often the first sign that anything is wrong.

What Are The Signs of Colic?

As already mentioned, if your baby has colic there is no doubt that you will already know about it! But just in case...

  • Baby cries inconsolably and frequently
  • Baby pulls legs up to tummy as if in pain
  • Baby cries mostly in the late afternoon and evening

If this sounds familiar, colic could be the cause.

Baby crying with colic help

How Can I Help My Baby?

Colic is persistent by nature and sometimes there is very little that you can do to stop the crying. In some cases, it is caused by an immature digestive system that is struggling to cope with basic functions, and this gets better as baby gets older. There is no evidence that breastfed babies suffer more or less than formula fed babies either. However, there are some tips and tricks that you can use to ease discomfort and help to reduce the crying during an episode:

  • Wind your baby frequently, and especially after feeds. This helps to release trapped gas that can cause pain, and is essential for all babies whether they suffer from colic or not.
  • Keep baby upright after feeds for as long as possible, to help wind pass more easily. Don't be tempted to lie baby down for a sleep straight after a feed either, as this can cause more trapped wind and disrupt sleep.
  • Wear baby in a sling or carrier. Often being close to you helps to soothe and comfort baby and being upright will help too.
  • Try baby massage, focusing on the tummy to help ease pain and discomfort. 

Are Medications Necessary?

If your baby seems to be suffering more than you'd like, it's important to speak to either your health visitor or GP for further advice. There are some over the counter products that your doctor may recommend, but you would need to take your baby in for a check up to make sure they're suitable first.

Some parents swear that medications and over the counter remedies are the only thing that helped to ease their baby's colic, but others will say that only time helped- as baby grew older and digestive systems matured, the colic seemed to gradually ease. It's up to you to decide what is best for your baby.

Myths Surrounding Colic

Since all babies cry (this is, at first, the ONLY way that they are able to communicate their wants and needs to you) there are lots of myths surrounding colic, and we were interested to read about some of the things that parents have been told over the years. It's worth noting here that we aren't sure whether these myths are true or not...

  1. Your baby is not in pain. It's widely believed that cortisol (stress hormones) levels are no higher in a baby diagnosed with colic, which indicates that your baby is not suffering from pain during a colic episode. This contradicts the theories that colic is caused by trapped wind and is the result of abdominal pain...
  2. You shouldn't hold a colciky baby too much. The basis of this one is that if you pick up your baby every time she cries, you will pick up your colicky baby 'too much' and she will come to depend on you. It's just our opinion, but a crying baby is trying to communicate something to you and if your instincts are to pick her up and soothe her, then that is what you should do. Besides, being upright in your arms is likely to help with releasing trapped wind.
  3. Colic can delay development. There is no proof of this myth at all. Most babies grow out of colic by the age of twelve weeks or so, and there is no evidence that development is affected at all.
  4. There's no such thing as colic. Tell that to the parent that has spent the last three hours pacing the floors with a crying infant...

What's the Difference Between Colic and Reflux?

Sadly, many babies who suffer from reflux (silent or otherwise) are initially diagnosed with colic, and parents are advised to 'ride it out' since most cases of colic do ease by themselves after a period of time. But there is a difference between the two:

  • A baby with reflux has no schedule. A baby with colic often cries at the same time each day, but a baby suffering from reflux will experience pain at any time of the day or night, and will cry accordingly.
  • A baby with reflux does not always gain weight well, especially if she is being sick after feeds, or reluctant to feed due to experiencing pain. A colicky baby tends to gain weight fairly well.
  • A baby with reflux will stop crying when her pain is eased, so if you wind your baby she may find relief in discomfort and crying will ease or stop. A colicky baby tends to carry on crying despite all of your best efforts.
  • A baby with reflux may be sick quite a lot. And with each feed that is brought up, acid also travels up the oesophagus, resulting in pain. Babies with silent reflux are sick less often, but still experience the pain. This pain is evident in the way that a baby with reflux will arch her back and grimace, even during sleep. A baby with colic will pull up her legs when she cries, but there are very little other signs of pain.

Again, the only way to get a true diagnosis is to speak to your doctor if you're at all worried.

Further Reading:

9 Things to Think About When Helping Your Sick Baby Sleep
5 Common Reasons Why Your Baby Wakes at Night
Confused As To How Teething Leads to Sleep Regression? We Explain

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