Coping with colic in infants

Being both a GP and a Mum, I've chatted to many, many parents over the years, both professionally and socially. Definitely one of the most widespread issues in early months of a baby's life is colic. It's fair to say that the concept of colic is a tricky one. Although parents use the term a lot, medically it isn't really fully understood. It is thought to be possibly due to a combination of mild reflux, constipation and possibly a bit of cow's milk intolerance... but in all honesty the precise causes are not really known. What is known for sure is that is it a very common problem, affecting around 5-20% of all infants, and does not have any long-term effects on the baby's health.

Symptoms usually start as early as the first week of the baby's life and can go on for up to three to four months. Typically, Mum and Dad will describe their baby becoming very distressed especially in the late afternoon and early evening. Sometimes infants will draw up their knees and arch their back during the episode of crying, but not always. Between episodes the baby is usually happy. So long as there are no other concerning features such as poor weight gain or blood in the stools, you can be reassured that the symptoms of colic will settle as your baby gets a little older and bigger.

That is not to say that coping with a newborn with colic isn't emotionally and physically exhausting. Getting as much support from friends and family can be a real lifeline. Simple offers of help such as letting someone take your little one for a walk whilst you catch up on some much-deserved sleep may be extremely helpful. Many people find that contact with other parents going through the same difficulties is useful. Local baby and toddler groups, SureStart centres or NCT events may be a good way to meet people in a similar situation.

If you and baby are really struggling, occasionally medication can be considered. Colic drops containing simeticone or lactase may sometimes give relief to baby, but should only be used until around three or four months of age.

If you are worried about your baby or struggling with symptoms of colic, please speak to either your GP or health visitor.

Dr Jessica Garner is a GP and health blogger. Visit her blog here.