Babies who suffer from infant colic will cry and fret inconsolably for several hours or more at a time, without an obvious reason.
Infant colic is persistent crying, often for several hours and without an obvious cause, in otherwise healthy young babies.
Colic mostly affects infants between two weeks and 16 weeks of age.
Infants usually grow out of colic and it is not considered dangerous, though can be very stressful to manage.
Follow the advice of your doctor, nurse and Plunket. You can also contact Healthline if worried about your child.
Babies who suffer from infant colic will cry and fret inconsolably for several hours or more at a time, without an obvious reason. They may clench their fists and draw their legs up to their tummies. The colic often occurs in the late afternoon or early evening and usually will happen at the same time of day or night. Sometimes the colic may end with the passing of a bowel motion or gas, or the child may simply cry him or herself to sleep.
The cause of colic is unknown. Colic is not considered dangerous, although it can be frightening and difficult to deal with. Sometimes other conditions such as reflux or lactose intolerance may be involved, but with colic the baby is otherwise thriving and healthy.
How can I help my baby?
The management of infant colic is very difficult. It often seems to be at its worst when parents are tired and overwrought themselves. There is no sure-fire cure for colic and most babies will outgrow it by around 16 weeks of age. Some tips to help you and your baby cope with colic:
Be prepared. If the baby is likely to require your undivided attention for several hours in the evening, plan to keep those hours free for him or her. At the time it may seem that it will never end, but feel confident that it will pass! Be creative, the rest of the family can eat tea and have baths at 3pm for a few months.
Resist the temptation to find something on which to blame the colic. Colic has been a problem for babies (and parents) for many years, with no cure being found.
Look after yourself. Eat a nourishing snack before an anticipated crying period.
Maintain breastfeeding on demand. If the baby seems worse after certain foods are eaten by the mother then it may be wise to exclude them. It is not necessary for the mother to change her diet otherwise.
If the baby is bottle fed, check the formula is made up correctly. Stop the baby once or twice during the feed to burp him or her. Discuss with your Plunket nurse or doctor whether you should change the brand of formula you are using.
Buy or borrow a carrying device such as a front pack or sling in which to carry your baby. This allows you to get on with some activities.
To reassure the baby with colic, hold or carry him or her as much as you can. Play soothing music and keep the lights dimmed. Handle the baby smoothly and speak quietly.
Ask for and accept offers of help – caring for a baby with colic is not a one-person job.
Keep in contact with your doctor, practice nurse or Plunket nurse (PlunketLine 0800 933 922) and follow their recommendations.
If concerned about your baby you can also phone Healthline on 0800 611 116 for advice.
Credits: Editorial team. Reviewed By: Health Navigator NZ
Information for health professionals
The content on this page is aimed at health professionals or anyone interested in more detail. Topics include:
PHARMAC Update: Managing the unsettled baby, including colic and reflux
Presentation by Philip Leadbitter, Paediatrician Hutt Valley District Health Board at a PHARMAC full day seminar on assessing and managing the neonate held in Wellington, New Zealand, on 2 May 2016.
Is there any evidence for manipulative therapy for infants with colic symptoms?
The following is the plain English summary from a systematic review of manipulative therapies for infantile colic, published December 2012.
"Infantile colic is a distressing problem, characterised by excessive crying in infants and it is the most common complaints seen by physicians in the first 16 weeks of a child's life.
It is usually considered a benign disorder because the symptoms generally disappear by the age of five or six months. However, the degree of distress caused to parents and family life is such that physicians often feel the need to intervene. Some studies suggest that there are longer-lasting effects on the child, and estimates in 2001 put the cost to the UK National Health Service at over £65 million.
It has been suggested that certain gentle (low velocity, low amplitude) manipulative techniques (such as those used in osteopathy and chiropractic therapies) might safely reduce the symptoms associated with infantile colic, specifically excessive crying time. This review included six randomised trials involving 325 infants who received manipulative treatment or had been part of a control group.
The studies involved too few participants and were of insufficient quality to draw confident conclusions about the usefulness and safety of manipulative therapies.
Although five of the six trials suggested crying is reduced by treatment with manipulative therapies, there was no evidence of manipulative therapies improving infant colic when we only included studies where the parents did not know if their child had received the treatment or not.
No adverse effects were found, but they were only evaluated in one of the six studies.
Further rigorous research is required where (a) infants are randomly allocated to receive either treatment or no treatment and (b) those assessing the treatment outcomes do not know whether or not the infant has received a manipulative therapy."