Colic and breastfeeding
If your otherwise healthy baby cries inconsolably for 3 or more hours a day, at least 3 days a week (and it's been happening for 3 weeks or more), it could be caused by colic.
Colic usually starts when a baby is a few weeks old. It's a common problem that should get better by the time they are around 3 or 4 months.
Symptoms of colic
Babies cry for many reasons, but look out for the following signs:
- intense crying lasting several hours
- clenched fists, arched back, knees being pulled up to tummy
- red or flushed face when crying
- they are inconsolable – nothing you do seems to make it better
- their tummy rumbles or they're very windy
There are other reasons your baby may be crying. It's a good idea to check if they:
- are hungry
- have a dirty or wet nappy
- have wind or constipation
- are too hot or too cold
- are bored or overstimulated
If your baby tends to cry during or after feeds, it's worth checking whether this could be reflux. Our guide to reflux in breastfed babies has information on the signs and symptoms.
If you're not sure what's wrong, it's best to speak to your health visitor, call NHS 111 or see a GP to be sure.
Soothing a colicky baby
Sadly, there is no actual cure for baby colic, only methods to provide relief and soothe them.
These are some of the tried and tested techniques that other parents use to relieve colic symptoms in breastfed babies.
Burp (or wind) your baby during and after every feed – have a look at burping your baby for techniques.
Sit your baby up
Sit your baby up as straight as possible while feeding. This will help minimise the amount of air they swallow.
Check that your baby is attached (latching on) properly, as this may help reduce colic symptoms.
If you are unsure that your baby is attaching properly while breastfeeding, have a look at our guide to latching on.
There is no evidence that changing your diet will help – however, some breastfeeding mums say that cutting down on spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol has made a difference for them.
If you are mixed feeding (combining breast and bottle feeding), have a look at our guide to colic and bottle feeding.
Other ways to soothe your baby
Warm bath and a massage
A warm bath can be soothing, followed by a gentle tummy massage with gentle, circular strokes on the tummy.
During bouts of crying, hold your baby to your chest so they can feel and hear your heartbeat.
Rock your baby
Sometimes the swaying motion of rocking your baby in your arms can help.
Change of scenery
A change of environment can sometimes be enough to calm your baby – and yourself. Try moving to a different room or going outside for some fresh air.
Create a calming atmosphere
Babies can become overstimulated with lots of noise and activity around them.
Try to quieten your surroundings – switch the TV off, dim the lights and try to take some deep breaths yourself.
If you can, try to talk to other new mums. Talking about what you are going through with someone else can really help.
If you feel calmer, it will be easier to soothe your baby.
Did you know?
Colic is a very common condition affecting 1 in 5 babies, regardless of whether they're breast or formula-fed.
What causes colic?
There are no known reasons why some babies get colic – some doctors think it's a type of stomach cramp.
But it may happen because babies find it harder to digest food when they are really young.
Constant crying could also be due to food allergies, such as cow's milk allergy.
If you think this is the case, talk to your GP before making any changes to your baby's diet.
The Breastfeeding Friend, a digital tool from Start for Life, has lots of useful information and expert advice to share with you – and because it's a digital tool, you can access it 24/7.
Help and support
As a parent of a colicky baby, it can be exhausting and extremely upsetting – but it will stop.
It's also important to remember that you need to be looked after too. If possible, ask family and friends for their support so you can take regular rest breaks.
If you are finding it difficult to cope, there is support available:
- Cry-sis offer support and advice: call Cry-sis on 0800 448 0737 (9am to 10pm, 7 days a week)
- the NCT support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby: call NCT on 0300 330 0700
- have a look at the NHS website for advice on soothing a crying baby
- watch this NCT video on coping with crying