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Symptoms of colic in breastfed babies
Colic, as described by the NHS, is “when a baby cries a lot but there’s no obvious cause”.
It is natural for a healthy breastfed baby to cry; it is your baby’s way of communicating their needs with you (whether it be that they’re hungry, sleepy, too hot or too cold, or if they simply want some cuddles).
However, some healthy babies may cry for longer, extended periods of time. This extended crying (colicky crying) could be a sign that your baby has colic.
But, what is colic? How do you know if your breastfed baby has colic? What can I do to ease colic symptoms?
This article, “Colic Symptoms in Breastfed babies”, brought to you by MyBump2Baby, will answer all of those questions and more. We also recorded a podcast on “Everything you need to know about Colic” with colic expert Rebecca Palmer, you can listen to it here.
What are the Symptoms of Colic?
- Intense or Excessive Crying in an otherwise healthy baby (that lasts for at least three hours a day, more than three days a week for more than three weeks).
- Crying that is more high pitched than normal crying
- Pale skin around the mouth
- Clenched Fists
- Arched Back
- Knees Pulled up to tummy
- Red or flushed face when crying
- Inconsolable crying
When to Contact a Health Professional
- You should contact a doctor if:
- You are concerned about your baby’s symptoms.
- Your baby’s symptoms worsen
- Your baby has a fever (this could be a sign of an ear infection)
- Your baby is crying excessively (excessive crying durations of more than 4 hours)
- Your baby isn’t feeding well
- Your baby has loose stools or blood in the stool
- Your baby is losing weight
- Your baby has persistent vomiting
- Your baby is less alert or active than usual
- Your baby isn’t sucking your breast or bottle strongly
At what age can babies get colic?
Colic usually starts when your baby is between 2 – 5 weeks old. Colic is likely to start at around 2 weeks of age if your infant is full term, or when they are a little older if they were born prematurely. Usually, colic disappears by the time your baby is 3 – 4 months old. Any baby can have colic, even bottle fed babies.
What Causes Colic in Breastfed babies?
Doctors are unsure of exactly what causes colic, but there are many contributing factors which can contribute to your baby’s colic.
Your diet is very important when you are breast feeding your baby; after all, what you eat is also what your baby “eats” when you breast feed them.
If you eat certain foods which contain allergens, like cow’s milk or dairy products, when your baby drinks your breast milk, they will also receive them. Some babies have lactose intolerance or allergic reactions to certain substances within foods- due to their immature digestive system- and it can cause digestive, or colic symptoms.
Over-active let down is when your breast milk flows out of your breast too quickly/forcefully whilst you are feeding your baby. Whilst your baby is gulping the milk down and trying to keep up, they can also gulp air, which can get trapped in the stomach or intestines and cause colicky symptoms.
For more information Overactive Let-Down and how to get relief, visit this website: https://www.strong4life.com/en/feeding-and-nutrition/breastfeeding-and-bottle-feeding/foreceful-or-overactive-letdown
When you breast feed your baby, the breast milk you initially produce is usually thinner and contains more lactose (milk sugar). This is called foremilk.
If you have an overabundant supply of breast milk, you may produce too much foremilk, and your baby may fill up on foremilk, rather than the more nutritious hind milk (which is thicker and creamier, and contains all of the nutrition).
This is called a foremilk – hindmilk imbalance.
To counter act this, try to only feed your baby from one breast during a single feed to help your baby get both foremilk and hindmilk.
Can colic be treated?
There is no way to treat colic, but you can help to relieve the symptoms.
What can I do to help relieve colic?
Breastfeed your Child
Breastfeeding colicky babies more will help them feel more safe and secure, even if they are not hungry.
Respond to your Baby’s Crying Quickly
Responding to colciky babies’ cries quickly will make them feel secure, and like they can rely on you to be there when they need you. Responding to colicky infants’ crying quickly will not make them cry more to get your attention.
Hold your Baby
Most colicky babies tend to want to be held more. Putting colicky babies in the “colic hold ” (where you lie them stomach down over your forearm) may help them to feel better. If your baby with colic suffers from gas or reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease), it is recommended to keep them up right.
Swaddle your Baby
Swaddling colicky babies will help them to feel safe, as the swaddle will remind them of when they were in the womb.
Overstimulated babies may become stressed and startle more. A calm environment will help your baby to stay calm, so turning down the lights or reducing the noise around the house will help them to feel relaxed. White noise is also relaxing for your baby- you can buy white noise machines, or just play some white noise videos from online.
Make sure your baby isn’t hungry
If your baby is hungry, it may make them more stressed. Keeping your baby well fed will help to keep them happy.
For support and advice:
If you are struggling to cope with your colicky baby, there are support groups like Cry-sis – who offer support and advice. Call 0845 122 8669 (9am to 10pm, 7 days a week).
For more information about colic, visit the link on the National Health Service website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/colic/
For advice on how to breastfeed correctly, you can visit the link:
Or alternatively, you can see your local breastfeeding specialist.
Here are what some MyBump2Baby mums have to say about colic:
“I had a very colicky baby, everyone i spoke to about it would just reply “well babies cry”. Baby colic is so hard to deal with as a new parent and crying baby is no good for parents mental health, I thought we would be ok and it was just formula fed babies that got infant colic but how wrong was i? All any mother wants is a healthy baby and a happy baby. We tried baby massage which improved the infantile colic a little but unsettled babies are so hard to deal with, as a mother i just felt helpless, other symptoms my baby had was her legs rising to her tummy, she would cry excessively from 7pm till around 9pm each night, the long periods of crying were almost too much to bare.”
“For your own wellbeing try to understand that althought most babies don’t get colic a lot of babies do, there are many herbal remedy to try, when your breathe deeply and even go for a walk with your baby. My little one calmed when i put the vacuum cleaner on weirdly, white noise is meant to help.”