Colic gets better on its own after a few months. There are not many treatment options for colic, but the following tips may help you deal with a colicky baby.
Comforting your baby
There is no "best" way to comfort your baby or reduce the symptoms of colic. Different babies respond to different methods, so you may have to see what works best for you. Here are some suggestions:
- Holding your baby during a crying episode can sometimes help, as can wrapping them snugly in a blanket.
- Sit your baby upright during feeding to prevent them from swallowing air.
- Don't drink too much tea, coffee and other caffeine-containing drinks if you are breastfeeding. Some women also find that spicy food and alcohol can aggravate colic.
- Holes in bottle teats that are too small may cause babies to swallow air along with their feed. "Fast flow" teats with larger (or several) holes are available and may be a useful alternative.
- Always burp your baby after a feed. To do this, sit your baby upright or hold them against your shoulder, making sure you support their neck and head. Gently rub their back and tummy until they burp. They may vomit a small amount of milk when you do this.
- Overstimulating a baby, by continually picking them up and putting them down, may aggravate the crying, according to some research. Gently comforting your baby in a quiet, darkened room may be more beneficial. If you are satisfied that your baby is not hungry, tired, too hot or cold or in need of a nappy change, it may help to leave them in their cot for a short while.
- Babies like movement, so pushing them around in their pram or pushchair or going for a drive can be comforting. Rocking them over your shoulder or carrying them around the house may also be helpful.
- Some babies find "white noise" soothing. This is the background sound of a washing machine or vacuum cleaner.
- Gentle stomach or back rubs or a warm bath may also help to relieve colic.
There has been some debate in recent years about whether different parenting styles have an effect on colic.
Traditionally, parents have been advised to encourage their baby to stick to a fixed eating and sleeping schedule. However, another approach known as "infant-demand" parenting involves feeding or holding babies when they want it.
A study that compared the two approaches found that each one has its own benefits and disadvantages. Babies who were brought up using the traditional approach cried more over a 24-hour period but slept better during the night. Babies who were brought up using infant-demand parenting cried less over a 24-hour period but woke more often during the night.
As colic always improves on its own, medical treatment is not usually recommended. However, if you have problems coping, contact your GP for advice about possible medical treatments.
Most treatments for colic only have limited effectiveness. However, some babies respond better to certain treatments than others, so it may be worthwhile giving them a try (one at a time) for about a week or so. These treatments are described below.
Simeticone drops are a supplement that you can add to your baby’s bottle or breast milk before a feed. The drops are designed to help release bubbles of trapped air in your baby’s digestive system, so they may be of some use if symptoms of indigestion are contributing to their colic.
A one-week trial of simeticone drops is usually recommended. If your baby’s symptoms do not improve within this time, it is usually felt that there is little point carrying on with the treatment.
Babies can tolerate simeticone drops, and there have been no reports of any side effects from the treatment.
Removing cows' milk
It's possible that your baby may have developed a short-term intolerance to proteins that are found in cows’ milk and other dairy products.
If you are breastfeeding, you can try removing all dairy products from your diet for a week to see if your baby’s symptoms improve.
If you are bottle feeding, switch to a hypoallergenic milk formula. These types of milk have low levels of the protein that may be causing intolerance. Again, you can try using them for a week to see if your baby’s symptoms improve.
Your GP can advise you about the most suitable hypoallergenic milk formula for your baby. The use of soya milk formula is not usually recommended because it contains hormones that may interfere with your baby’s future physical and sexual development.
If your baby’s symptoms do not improve after using hypoallergenic milk formula for a week, it is usually felt that there is little point carrying on with the treatment.
If you are breastfeeding and you decide to continue with a diary-free diet, you will need to take additional calcium supplements. Dairy products are an important source of calcium, which is needed for good bone health.
Lactase is an enzyme that helps break down a sugar called lactose, which is found in milk (both breast and bottle milk). Your baby may have short-term problems digesting lactose, which could contribute to their symptoms.
Lactase drops can be added to your baby’s feed to make digesting the lactose easier. As with the other treatments described above, using lactase drops for more than a week if symptoms do not improve is not usually recommended.
Alternative and traditional therapies
There are many alternative and traditional therapies for colic, but there is little evidence that they are effective, and some may harm your baby. Some of these therapies are described below.
Also known as dicyclomine, dicycloverine is a medication used to control stomach cramps. In the past, dicycloverine was widely used as a treatment for colic. However, it is now regarded as unsuitable for infants under the age of six months because it can cause serious side effects including:
- breathing difficulties
- loss of consciousness
- muscle weakness
Star anise tea
Star anise tea is a herbal tea that has traditionally been used to treat colic. However, its use is no longer recommended because certain types of star anise are highly toxic and could poison your baby.
Chiropractic and massage therapy
Some people suggest that a series of massages or chiropractic manipulation of a baby's spine may be effective in preventing colic. However, detailed medical trials have failed to find any convincing evidence of the benefit of such therapies.