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All babies cry. It’s a normal part of development. When babies cry a lot, it’s often called colic. Here are some things you can do if you think your baby has colic.

When you think your baby has colic: what to do

The first thing is to have your baby checked by your paediatrician or General Practitioner (GP) to make sure there’s nothing physically wrong. This will reassure you and make it easier for you to try out different strategies for settling your baby.

The second thing is to look after yourself by getting enough rest, sleep and time to yourself.

As a parent, it’s easy to feel that you have to be ‘superhuman’ – that somehow you can manage every aspect of your baby’s care, keep a spotless home, work and do shopping, cooking and all the things you did before your baby came along.

This is just impossible. Everybody – you, your family and especially your baby – will suffer if you’re feeling stressed from trying to do too much.

If you make time to care for yourself and get enough rest, you’ll be in better shape to care for your baby.

Coping with colic: 10 tips

Crying and fussing is a normal part of development for most babies. It will pass in time. But here are some ideas that might help cut down on how often, how long and how hard your baby cries and fusses:

  • Check whether your baby is comfortable. See whether his diaper needs changing, or whether he’s too hot or cold.
  • Offer a feed if you think your baby might be hungry, or if the last feed was more than two hours ago.
  • Offer a pacifier or the breast. Sometimes your baby isn’t hungry but wants or needs to suck. You could also encourage her to soothe herself by helping her find her own fingers or thumb to suck.
  • Speak softly to your baby, sing to him or play soft music. He might just want to know you’re nearby, or your voice might soothe him.
  • Gently rock or carry your baby in a baby carrier or sling – sometimes movement and closeness to a parent can soothe babies. Some babies quieten down when you take them for a walk in the pram. But it’s not recommended to leave your baby sleeping in a pram unsupervised.
  • Try to work out what your baby needs when she cries and is hard to comfort. Some babies are bored and need the stimulation of being held, rocked or spoken to. But others seem to be easily overstimulated and need peace and quiet. You could try turning down the lights and trying to calm things down, or you could try some low-level background noise, such as a fan.
  • Try baby massage. This will often calm your baby and help you relax too. It can also strengthen the bond between you and your baby. Your paediatrician can teach you how to do baby massage. You could also check out our illustrated guide to baby massage.
  • A warm bath might settle your baby and promote sleep.
  • Try to establish a pattern to feeding and settling, so your baby knows what to expect and can develop some ways of self-regulating.
  • Ask your paediatrician or GP for advice. They will be able to reassure you about your baby’s health, as well as checking your feeding techniques and providing valuable tips and advice on managing your particular situation. Your paediatrician might also be able to advise you about settling programs and early parenting centres.

These approaches won’t magically stop your baby crying, but they might make things easier and more bearable until your baby gets older and can tell you what he needs.

Different strategies will help different babies. Also, something that worked well one day might not work the next day – you might have to try something different. Every day’s different.

You can try these approaches in any order. You can also experiment to see which ones are most likely to help your particular situation. If one of these strategies doesn’t work after a while, you can try another.

You can’t spoil your baby by picking her up, or by cuddling or talking to her. Feed your baby whenever you think she’s hungry, and pick her up to comfort her when she’s crying.

Things that probably won’t work with colic

Medications and mixtures

Doctors usually don’t recommend prescribed, over-the-counter, naturopathic and homeopathic medications to treat colic.

There’s no evidence that colicky babies suffer from ‘wind’ or intestinal spasm, so colic mixtures have no logical or scientific basis. They aren’t recommended as a substitute for – or as an addition – to the tips listed above.

Although many babies have reflux symptoms, such as vomiting, spitting up milk or back arching, there is very little evidence that reflux medication reduces crying and fussing.

Supplements and other treatments

Probiotic supplements and chiropractic treatment are unlikely to help with colic.

Mother’s diet

There’s very little evidence that crying in babies is caused by an allergy to substances that a mother eats and passes to baby in the breastmilk. This means that changing what you’re eating if you’re breastfeeding isn’t generally helpful, unless your baby has symptoms other than crying – for example, diarrhoea.

Sometimes mums will notice a change in their baby’s behaviour after they’ve eaten something in particular. If this happens, this food is best avoided.

Infant formula

There’s very little evidence that crying in babies is caused by an allergy to a particular type of milk. True milk allergy is uncommon. This means that changing formula (if bottle-feeding) probably won’t help. Changes of formula can also be expensive.

If your baby has colic, the things that are likely to work and that cause no harm to your baby are physical rather than medicinal.

When to see your GP about colic

You might want to see your GP early on when your baby first begins to get restless and grizzly. Your GP will do a careful physical examination to rule out any medical causes. The GP might also be able to offer you practical advice.

Make sure to see your doctor if:

  • the strategies above don’t improve the symptoms
  • your baby develops any other problems
  • you’re afraid you might hurt your baby
  • you’re worried for any other reason.

Tests for colic

Investigations such as blood tests or X-rays rarely find any problems in babies with colic. The only time your baby would need tests is if the doctor thinks there might be an illness or infection that’s making your baby cry.

Prevention of colic

Colic seems to be a common phase that many babies go through. This means it’s difficult to prevent.

Very young babies who are carried a lot (using a sling), even when they’re not crying, have a tendency to cry and fuss less.

Video: Settling strategies

In this video, parents talk abour their experience and share tips to soothing their babies.