Colic: what is it, what can you do about it and is it avoidable?

colicky baby

You’re in the early weeks of new parenthood with a baby who won’t stop crying. Everyone offers the same diagnosis: colic. But you have no idea what they’re talking about. Here, we talk colic with the parents who’ve been through it…

There is a mysterious ‘illness’ that no one has ever heard of until they are faced with their own uncontrollably screaming and crying newborn baby. New parents will manically google for a cause and cure of this crying and come up with the same diagnosis: colic.

But what is colic? No one seems to know but it causes babies to cry and cry and cry. And writhe around. And cry.

My firstborn had it. We’d had two blissful weeks of new parenthood with her; a sleepy baby who loved feeding. Beautiful gifts from friends and family. Time to rest and recover from the birth. And then WHAM. Non-stop crying every evening unless she was being breastfed.

I turned to the internet and found out about this thing called colic. It sounded serious. Would she need medication? I phoned a more experienced mother to ask how long it would last. She said the number ‘three’ and I thought: oh man, she is going to say three hours. I can’t bear three hours of this. She said ‘months’. Three MONTHS.

How on earth would I deal with a baby who screamed the house down every evening for three months? I desperately asked around (mostly the internet, but also other parents) for a cure. Infacol was suggested, and gripe water. Nothing really worked, time was the healer for us.

Soon, I’ll be going on the Jeremy Vine Show to talk colic with a doctor and Jeremy himself. Ahead of the show, I decided to ask our Instagram followers if any of them had been through something similar, and how they dealt with it. Below, in italics, is my Instagram post about colic, followed by our readers’ excellent, varied and reassuring (everyone gets through it, eventually) responses…

Colic: what is it, what can you do about it and is it avoidable?

After giving birth the first time, I spent two weeks thinking motherhood was a breeze. My own mum even said she was surprised by how little help I needed. My baby took to breastfeeding well, she slept all the time, it was wonderful.

But then at three weeks old, she developed colic. That not-really-talked-about HORRENDOUS state/illness that makes babies cry NON STOP. For us, it was evenings that were the worst: 5-10pm. The only way to keep her happy was to keep her on the boob constantly. It was exhausting. But better than her screaming and crying herself into a frenzy. So that’s what we did.

I’ve since read that colic often coincides with early evening and a change in atmosphere in the house. It transitions from a quiet, calm place for mum (or dad) and baby to a busier, louder place. The smell of dinner cooking. The radio or telly or music go on. There will be chatting. This made sense to me: that it may be environmental rather than medical. (though that didn’t stop me trying Infacol, gripe water and the rest).

Did any of you go through colic? With one or all kids? I’m going on the Jeremy Vine show soon to talk colic with a doctor (and Mr Vine), and would love to hear about your experiences, as it’s so different for every parent/baby.

motheringfunday: I cannot tell you enough how much I hate the word colic. It’s a non-word, has no medical basis and even doctors can’t even tell you what it means. It can mean anything, depending on who you ask!

benourishd: With both kids I’ve had the ‘crying every evening’ scenario. With my first I tried everything under the sun, nothing worked, it just got better as his digestion improved around 8/9 weeks. With my second, I just cuddled her and burped her a lot and waited for it to subside, which it did. I’m convinced that gripe water/infacol/cranial osteopathy etc are just placebos for anxious parents who want to feel like they’re doing SOMETHING.

andbreathepostnatal: Yes, total nightmare, though I definitely minimise the bad memories of it now. I’m sure it can’t have been that bad… Right??!!

mothers.wellness.toolkit: Maurice had terrible colic but he was unhappy from birth because of birth trauma, he was very tiny and couldn’t feed effectively and I basically starved him by trying to exclusively breastfeed for 6 weeks and he wasn’t getting enough. He cried non stop, day and night, for hours and hours, for 8 weeks. It actually makes me shudder to think back on it. We finally got help, he started drinking formula (cue guilt etc but he finally put weight on) and after 10 weeks I was at a friend’s house and she said: have you noticed you’ve been here for an hour and he hasn’t cried? And that was a revelation. A whole hour of not crying. 10 weeks was the watershed, he finally started going for a few hours at a time without crying. It’s definitely scarred me though. Constant crying with no explanation – “colic” is a catch all that doesn’t really help in all circumstances and leaves you feeling so utterly helpless and useless. His wasn’t your “typical” evening colic, it was permanent colic. Devastating, soul destroying. But it did pass. He’s still a bit of an emotional whirlwind though…

thishackneymum: I never really went with colic but both of mine definitely struggled with their tummies for the first 9/10 weeks. Combination of fast milk, a brand new digestive system and so many growth spurts (I saw a cranial osteopath who said after a growth spurt it was common for the diaphragm to be right/not caught up and cause stomach pain). At around 10 weeks they both suddenly seemed to be able to digest more easily- less screaming, less writhing around, less vomming and more importantly longer sleep at night… evenings were always the worst though – witching hour was definitely a witching 4 hours.

facefacefoot: If there was a bottle that said ‘helps colic’ I bought it. I’m sure ‘only children’ had the worst colic. I would never have another child, because of colic!

mariyoula: Yes we had the evening colic and it’s just so hard. I read somewhere that it can also be babies just letting off steam, stress accumulated throughout the day. Osteopathy and homeopathy saved the day for us.

kirsten_weis: Oh man, we are going through this right now with my 3 week old and I can’t wait to see the other side. I think it’s due to tummy troubles and reflux from fast milk and a developing digestive system, but good lord she sometimes screams on and off for hours starting at 9:30am until she goes down for the night. She’s gaining lots of weight so the doc isn’t too worried about it, but I can’t wait for this magical 10 weeks when this might slow down.

theslingchef: I’m in colic hell at the moment with my 8 week old. Going to try cranial osteopathy next!

kateberesfordmiller: My second child had reflux and colic until she was 18 weeks old. It was sheer hell. People thought I had PND but actually it was just having a baby who never stopped crying was slowly finishing me! She wouldn’t be put down from 3-6 pm and just screamed constantly, nothing helped. My poor eldest had to put up with a mummy who wasn’t there for her and, on days I was on my own, only ate food that I could cook one-handed (which was a surprising amount). She eventually grew out of it in 5 months but it took me a lot longer to get over it. Every time I said she had colic people just acted like it was easy to deal with. Please do raise awareness of how horrific this is to deal with.

bridgethurd: My first had horrendous colic and evenings too although not linked to change in atmosphere I don’t think. She was 7 weeks prem so just not ready to be born I guess. I finally discovered white noise and it was a miracle for us. It was recommended to me with advice to turn it up louder than the screaming then as they calm you reduce the volume. My husband would come home some days and find me sat on the couch holding Menna with the stereo blaring white noise. The irony was that it was actually ‘music to my ears’ as it wasn’t my child screaming!

Did/does your baby have colic? Have you found a magical cure? What do you think causes it?