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Baby

      Colic in babies

      Colic is a common problem that affects up to one in five babies1 and it affects babies whether they’re breastfed or bottle fed, or a combination of both.

      Dealing with a colicky baby can be exhausting and worrying. But your baby having colic doesn’t mean they’re unwell or that you’re doing something wrong. One of the most important things to know is that there are no long term effects. So whilst colic can be very stressful to manage, you can rest assured that it’s nothing to worry about.

      So just what is colic in babies? Here you’ll find more information on the symptoms of colic in babies, how to treat colic in babies and the various things that provide baby colic relief. There’s also some tips for soothing and comforting a baby with colic.

      What is colic in babies?

      Crying in babies is par for the course when it comes to parenting. However, if you find that your baby is crying for more than three hours a day, three days out of each week, for longer than a week2, it’s possible that you’re dealing with a colicky baby.

      Colic is defined by the NHS as ’when a baby cries a lot but there is no obvious cause'3.

      At what age do babies get colic?

      Colic can start when a baby is only a few weeks old and usually stops by the time they're 6 months old4.

      What causes colic in babies?

      What causes colic in babies is unclear, but one possible cause is the fact that babies find food harder to digest when they’re young5.

      Because there’s no definite known cause of colic, and no specific treatment6, it’s more helpful to focus on the symptoms, and how you can look after yourself and your baby whilst dealing with it.

      Symptoms of colic in babies

      Generally speaking, signs and symptoms of colic in babies include7:

      • Intense crying (usually more than three hours a day).
      • Clenched fists.
      • A flushed, red face.
      • Arching of the back.
      • Windy tummies.
      • Your baby drawing their knees up to their tummy.

      If your baby is showing any of these symptoms, it’s important that you talk to your health visitor, pharmacist or GP for advice on what to do.

      It’s also helpful to keep a note of how often your baby is crying, and the amount of time that passes between feeding and the onset of symptoms. That will allow your health professional to determine whether your baby is suffering from colic, and talk to you about the options available to help manage it. 

      If your baby is less than a year old, why not try our Baby Symptom Checker? It’s a useful tool to check your baby’s symptoms and offers lots of practical advice, too.

      How to soothe a baby with colic and help stop them crying

      Colic in newborn babies is characterised by frequent and long periods of crying. It follows then that the main question you might have as a parent is how to get a colicky baby to stop crying. This is likely to be closely followed by working out how to make a colicky baby sleep.

      When it comes to comforting your baby, there’s no one size fits all, and it’s all about trying different things to see what works.  Here are a few tried-and-tested methods that have been known to provide baby colic relief8,9:

      • Use gentle rocking motions to try and settle your baby - perhaps try rocking them over your shoulder.
      • Experiment with holding them in different positions, and hold your baby upright during feeds, and for as long as possible afterwards.
      • Use a ‘fast-flow’ teat if you’re bottle feeding – small holes in the teat can lead to swallowing too much air while feeding.
      • Always wind your baby after a feed.
      • Try calming them with white noise (e.g. hairdryer, radio, or background TV).
      • Give them a warm bath and then wrap them in a warm blanket.
      • Put your baby in the pram and take them for a stroll.
      • Take them for a drive in the car - the motion and the hum of the engine can be really soothing.
      • Give them a gentle stomach or back rub.
      • Baby massages for colic may also be an option to help soothe your colicky baby. It's always best to get help from your health visitor here. .
      • Giving your baby plenty of cuddles.

      If you suspect your baby may have colic, watch our short video for tips and advice to help manage their symptoms.

      Can breastfed babies get colic?

      The answer is yes.  Colic is a very common condition that affects babies regardless of whether they're breast or formula-fed.

      How long does colic last in babies?

      Colic mostly occurs in babies who are anywhere between a few weeks and four months old. However, it’s not unheard of for colic to continue until your baby is around six months of age10.

      What foods contribute to colic in babies?

      What causes colic in babies is largely unknown. Because of this, it’s very difficult to pinpoint the foods that contribute to colic in babies, or whether there’s a connection at all.

      If you’re breastfeeding, you might be tempted to remove certain foods, for example dairy, from your diet if you suspect that they’re causing your baby some irritation. However, it’s not recommended that you make any changes to your diet, including avoiding any specific food groups, without first speaking to your GP.

      If your baby is formula fed, you might be thinking about switching formula milk. Some formula milks are designed to help babies with colic and other tummy related problems11, but again it’s best not to make any changes without first speaking with your GP, midwife or other healthcare professional.

      Looking after yourself

      Colic can be physically and emotionally draining for parents. If you find that the worry and tiredness are impacting your daily life, it’s important that you get the support you need and take some time for you. Here are some ways in which you can help yourself to help your baby5:

      • Talk to your health visitor or GP, not just about your colicky baby, but about how you’re feeling.
      • Ask your friends and family for help so that you can have a break, and if it’s offered, take it!
      • Try to rest as much as possible when your baby is sleeping.
      • Take a short walk with your baby – a change of scenery can really help both of you.
      • Think about joining local baby groups where you can talk to other mums. You’ll very quickly find that you’re not alone, and having someone who’s in the same situation to talk to can be a real source of support.

      If you’ve got questions or concerns, or you’re struggling to cope with your baby’s colic, you’ll always find someone to talk to when you call our expert careline. The team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can chat online here or give them a call on 0800 996 1000.

      Dr Punam Krishan


      Dr Punam Krishan is an NHS GP and media doctor with a specialist interest in public health, family and lifestyle medicine. She is also a honorary senior clinical lecturer at the University of Glasgow. Alongside this, Punam is a writer and director of the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine.


      Read more

      1. NHS Start 4 Life. Breastfeeding challenges - Colic [Online]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/baby/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-challenges/constipation/ [Accessed March 2021].
      2. National Health Service (NHS). Colic [online] 2018. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/colic/. Accessed April 2021.
      3. National Health Service (NHS). Colic [online] 2018. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/colic/. Accessed April 2021.
      4. National Health Service (NHS). Colic [online] 2018. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/colic/. Accessed April 2021.
      5. National Health Service (NHS). Colic [online] 2018. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/colic/. Accessed April 2021.
      6. https://www.nct.org.uk/sites/default/files/related_documents/Colic%20in%20babies-%20evidence%20based%20briefing%20%282007%29_1.pdf 
      7. National Health Service (NHS). Colic [online] 2018. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/colic/. Accessed April 2021.
      8. NCT. Coping with colic symptoms [Online]. 2018. Available at: https://www.nct.org.uk/baby-toddler/crying/my-baby-wont-stop-crying-coping-colic-symptoms [Accessed February 2021].
      9. NHS Choices. Colic [Online]. 2014. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Colic/Pages/Introduction.aspx [Accessed February 2021].
      10. National Childbirth Trust (NCT). my baby won’t stop crying: coping with colic symptoms [online]. Available at https://www.nct.org.uk/baby-toddler/crying/my-baby-wont-stop-crying-coping-colic-symptoms#:~:text=These%20episodes%20last%20for%20more,are%20no%20long%2Dterm%20effects. Accessed April 2021.
      11. National Health Service (NHS). Types of formula [online] 2019. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/breastfeeding-and-bottle-feeding/bottle-feeding/types-of-formula/. Accessed April 2021.

      Last reviewed: 09th June 2021
      Reviewed by Oriana Hernandez Carrion

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