Babies are crying. This is fine. For the baby, this is the only way to communicate their discomfort. But if a healthy, well-fed, dry-diapered baby cries often and for a long time for no apparent reason, it can be newborn colic. We understand what they are, why they appear and how to deal with them.

What is colic in a newborn

Colic is a sharp, cramping pain in the abdomen. The term was introduced by the American pediatrician Morris Wessel. He noticed that some babies cry more than others and called this condition colic. Today, pediatricians adhere to the so-called rule of three. Colic occurs in babies older than three weeks, is causeless crying for up to three hours a day at least three times a week and goes away by itself by about three to five months. However, this difficult period will not necessarily last that long. Colic can end in a week.

It is important to understand that this is not a disease, but a variant of normal development. Colic occurs in every third newborn. They equally often disturb boys and girls. Full-term babies and premature babies. Children on breast, mixed or artificial feeding.

Why does colic occur?

The cause of colic is not exactly known. Pediatricians have several versions.

Immaturity of the digestive system

The baby’s digestive system needs time to learn how to work in harmony. Chaotic muscle contractions can cause pain and discomfort. But by three to five months, the process is getting better, and colic disappears.

Lack of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract

Bacteria living in the intestine actively participate in the process of digestion. It takes time for them to settle in. Until then, food may not be fully digested. Fermentation begins, gases are formed. This is what causes pain.

Food allergies or sensitivities to certain foods

Symptoms similar to colic can be caused by intolerance to cow’s milk. It occurs in only seven percent of babies and is usually accompanied by other problems such as diarrhea and rashes. According to studies , only 1.7% of lactating women get into breast milk such an amount of cow’s milk protein that can cause an allergic reaction. Therefore, a strict mom’s diet is not always justified. In any case, only a doctor can identify an allergy to cow’s milk protein or lactose deficiency and prescribe the necessary treatment.

The diet of a nursing mother, contrary to a common myth, usually does not affect the condition of the baby. Although some moms notice that their babies behave calmer if they eliminate harsh-tasting foods from the diet, which contribute to the formation of gases. For example, onions and cabbage. This is probably due to the fact that some babies do not produce enough enzymes – special proteins involved in digestion. It goes away with age.

Early childhood migraine

In 2013, scientists found that children who suffered from colic were more likely to experience migraines as adults. Perhaps the cause of their anxiety in infancy was precisely the headache.

Stress and anxiety of parents

A 2014 study found that children of anxious parents are more likely to cry. Apparently, babies read the state of adults and copy their emotions. And the only way a newborn can show anxiety is crying.

mother smoking

According to the Mayo Clinic, smoking or nicotine replacement therapy during pregnancy and in the first months after birth may increase the risk of colic in a newborn.

Common signs of colic

Mayo Clinic experts identify the following signs of colic:

  • The baby screams sharply and hysterically, as if in severe pain. Crying is not like normal restlessness caused by hunger, fatigue, or other common causes.
  • Attacks of colic occur as scheduled, every day at the same time. Most often in the afternoon and evening.
  • When crying, the face may turn red. The child closes his eyes, clenches his fists, pulls his knees to his stomach and arches his back in an arc.
  • The usual ways to calm down do not help.
  • Relief often comes after the baby farts or poops.

How to understand that a newborn has colic

Colic is a diagnosis of exclusion. To put it, you need to make sure that the baby is completely healthy and that he has no other reasons to experience discomfort. Therefore, first you need to eliminate the domestic causes of discomfort. Make sure that the baby eats and sleeps enough, is dressed in comfortable dry clothes, he is not hot or cold.

Then you should consult with a pediatrician. It is good if you prepare a diary before the visit, which will record how often the baby eats, how much he sleeps and when he goes to the toilet. It is also useful to record how much and for what reason the baby cries. This information will help you notice problems with sleep and nutrition in time, if any.

Also, the doctor will be able to rule out other causes that can cause symptoms similar to colic. For example, an umbilical hernia . If no health problems are found, and the newborn continues to cry for no apparent reason, then he has colic. It’s annoying, but not dangerous. According to the Mayo Clinic, colic does not harm the health of the baby, does not cause any consequences and goes away on its own.

Seek immediate medical attention if:

– the baby has a fever;

– the child is less active than usual;

– the baby weakly sucks a bottle or breast;

– There is blood in the stool

– the baby vomits (food pours out of the mouth and nose with pressure);

The baby is losing weight or not gaining weight.

How to prevent colic

Make sure your child is comfortable

Make sure the baby eats enough, sleeps and is dressed in dry clothes. At home, it should not be too hot or too cold: the ideal air temperature ranges from 20-22 degrees. These measures do not guarantee a cure for colic. But they will save the baby from other reasons for crying and, in general, will make them calmer.

Avoid overexciting the baby

Some babies feel calmer if they are swaddled, placed in a crib, and the lights dimmed in the room. In this state, they fall asleep more easily and do not wake themselves up with their hands. In order not to overheat the baby, use thin diapers and do not cover the swaddled baby with a blanket. Keep your legs and arms in a natural position and don’t pull the fabric too tight. You can only swaddle your hands, and leave your legs free. Stop swaddling when baby starts to roll over.

Help your baby burp out excess air

Additional concern can be caused by excess air trapped in the esophagus. During breastfeeding, make sure that the baby ‘s mouth is wide open and should capture not only the nipple, but also part of the areola. If you use bottles, try a few different models and find one that will help you avoid swallowing air while suckling. Carry your baby upright after feeding. Rest his chin on your shoulder and gently stroke his back. If this does not help, sit down and put the baby on your knee with your stomach. Don’t forget to keep your head up.

Lay your baby on your tummy more often

This helps to pass gases and starts intestinal motility, which in babies is sluggish and often poorly coordinated. Remember that within an hour after eating, putting the baby on the tummy is not worth it. This provokes regurgitation, and the baby may choke.

How to help a newborn during colic

There is no universal way to alleviate the condition of the baby during an attack of colic. What works today may not work tomorrow, and vice versa. Therefore, try different ways and look for the option that suits you and your baby.

Hold your baby more often

You can try to undress: skin-to-skin contact helps the baby feel more secure and calm. Take the baby in your arms or lie down next to you. Try to calm down, breathe slowly. You can sing lullabies or talk in a quiet, even voice.

Try turning on white noise

White noise is a uniform buzz, reminiscent of the sound of a hair dryer or a radio with an untuned wave. Sounds of nature are also suitable: the sound of rain, surf or waterfall. White noise often helps to calm down and fall asleep.

Get a tummy massage

Massaging the tummy is one way to help pass gas and can relieve colic. Stroke the tummy in a clockwise circular motion. Move your palm from top to bottom. Put more fingers above the navel and gently spread them apart. Don’t push too hard. Remember that all movements should be gentle and smooth.

Rock the kid

Motion sickness causes drowsiness. Take the baby and walk with him, swaying slightly. You can try slow dancing to soft music. If you are tired, a rocking chair, fitball, cradle or a special swing for babies will help. Some babies calm down when they are carried in a stroller or in a car in a car seat. In any case, the movements should be soft, smooth, without sudden jerks.

Never shake the baby!

This is dangerous , because the baby’s brain vessels are so fragile that he can be seriously injured.

What doesn’t help with colic

Transfer to artificial feeding

None of the guidelines for colic recommends not breastfeeding. Colic is equally susceptible to children who eat breast milk and mixtures.

Addition of water

Breast milk is 80% water, so it can satisfy both hunger and thirst. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for babies up to six months of age. Babies do not need to be fed even in the heat.

Phytotherapy and homeopathy

Baby tea, dill water, and other colic remedies have not been proven to be effective.


Studies confirming the effectiveness and safety of the use of painkillers for colic are not enough. Most of them are ordered by drug manufacturers.

What else can parents do?

Colic is a very difficult period for parents. According to the Mayo Clinic, colic often forces you to stop breastfeeding and leads to postpartum depression. Parents do not get enough sleep, feel exhausted, may be angry with the baby or blame themselves for helplessness.

Realize that you are not to blame

Colic occurs on its own, and not because you are not properly caring for the baby. It is really difficult, but rather short period. Remind yourself that by three or four months, colic will definitely end.

Ask for help

Share your experiences with family and friends. Ask for help that seems appropriate to you. For example, go to the store, cook food or sit with the baby. You can hire a nanny for at least a few hours a day. While the child is under supervision, you can sleep, take a walk in the nearby park or enjoy the silence in the nearest coffee shop. A short break will help restore strength.

Learn self-soothing techniques

If you are at zero, and there is no one to turn to for help, representatives of the American Association of Pediatricians recommend the following. Put the baby in a safe place. For example, in a crib with sides. Make sure it is free of pillows, blankets, and soft toys. And leave the room for 10-15 minutes.

During this time, try to calm down. Wash your face. Take a deep breath and count to ten. Have a bite. Listen to pleasant music. Call someone close to you or the parent support line . If you managed to put your feelings in order, return to the baby. If not, check that everything is in order with him, and repeat everything again. Take the baby in your arms when you feel that you are completely calm and ready to care for him without anger and irritation.

The article was checked by pediatrician and neonatologist Yulia Derkach .

Cover, illustration: Asya Sokolova

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