A baby who cries for hours on end practically every evening can wear any parent down. But if you’re struggling with a colicky baby, know that you’re not alone. Up to 40% of babies are estimated to have colic, a condition that is characterized by high-pitched, intense crying with no identifiable causes and during which the baby is inconsolable. Technically, colic is defined as crying for over 3 hours daily for over 3 days a week for a period of 3 weeks, but your doctor may provide a diagnosis of this condition before then. Fortunately, colic is not associated with any health problem and it resolves on its own eventually.1
Although the exact cause of colic is not clear, various theories have been put forward. One theory suggests that the baby is unable to cope with environmental factors like sound or light and is reacting adversely to it. Other potential causes include abdominal gas, indigestion, a sensitivity to sugars or proteins found in milk, or immaturity of the nervous system.2 3 4 While there’s no sure-fire way of tackling colic, the measures and remedies we’ve listed here can definitely help. But do keep in mind that different babies may respond to different techniques, so you might have to figure out what works for your little one through trial and error.
1. Minimize Stimulation And Swaddle The Baby
Sometimes, overstimulation can worsen or even trigger a crying episode. So if your baby starts getting fussy around a particular time, try creating a calm environment during those periods. Avoid loud sounds and bright lights, limit visitors, and don’t touch your baby unnecessarily.
Swaddling your baby may also help. When you wrap the cloth or blanket around your baby, take care that it’s not tight around the legs or hips as this could lead to hip problems. Also, make sure that your baby’s not too warm. Babies below 2 months may do especially well if they’re swaddled in a calm, dark room.5
2. Try Rocking Your Baby
Some babies respond well to movement. So gently rock your baby, walk around carrying them, or put them in a vibrating seat or swing. Some babies may prefer a car ride, or you could put them in a stroller and go for a walk.
3. Soothe With Sound
White noise is another go-to remedy that may calm your baby. While white noise machines are available, the drone of a clothes dryer, fan, or vacuum cleaner can also help. To combine movement with sound, make a “shushing” or “whooshing” sound while you carry or rock your baby. You can even get your vacuuming done with the baby in a baby carrier! White noise is thought to be soothing as it is reminiscent of the constant sound your baby heard in your womb.6 7
4. Give The Baby A Massage Every Day
A massage a day might just do the trick! One study found that over a 4-week period, massages had a significant impact on both colicky crying as well as total crying in babies – total crying reduced by 48% while colicky crying decreased by 64%.8 In the study, the babies were given two daily full body massages for 20–30 minutes and one belly rub for about 15 minutes. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you give this a shot:
- Give the baby a whole body massage once or twice a day when they are calm and happy. Gently stroke the head, limbs, and the rest of the body using olive oil. You could also try sesame or coconut oil after doing a patch test to ensure your baby is not allergic to it.
- Follow your baby’s lead when it comes to deciding how long the massage should last. While some babies might only tolerate one for 2–5 minutes, others might like a longer massage. Also, don’t massage the baby when they are hungry or full.
- Make sure the room is warm and comfortable.
- A belly rub can also be useful, especially when the child is colicky. For this, lay your baby on their back on a bed, towel, or your lap and move your palms gently in rhythmic circles in the clockwise direction on the abdomen. Make sure you apply only light pressure.9
5. Try Using A Pacifier
Babies below the age of 3 months are not sufficiently neurologically mature to soothe themselves. Sucking can help relieve stress and calm babies. So try offering your baby a pacifier. But do keep in mind that you shouldn’t let your baby use a pacifier till breastfeeding is established. Since the sucking motions used on a pacifier and during breastfeeding are different, it can confuse your baby and make it difficult for them to latch on.10 11
6. Make Sure Your Baby Gets Sufficient Hindmilk
If you are breastfeeding, make sure your baby finishes one breast before offering the next. The initial milk or “foremilk” that comes out is low in calories and fat. If you switch breasts before emptying the first breast and your baby doesn’t get sufficient amounts of the richer hindmilk, they may take in a large volume of low-fat feed which rapidly empties into the large intestine from the stomach. Your baby might also not have sufficient lactase enzyme to break down the lactose from this milk, which can mean gas and colic.12 13
7. Give Probiotics a Shot
Probiotics or beneficial bacteria may help ease colic. One study found that giving colicky babies probiotic bacteria known as Lactobacillus reuteri improved symptoms and reduced crying considerably. Probiotics can change the composition of microorganisms present in the gut and improve digestive health. Probiotic supplements for infants as well as infant formula containing probiotics are available but you should check with your doctor before using them.14 15
8. Try Herbal Remedies Like Chamomile, Fennel, And Lemon Balm
One study looked at the impact of giving a combination of fennel, chamomile, and lemon balm to colicky babies twice daily for a week. This remedy was effective at reducing crying time in 85% of the babies studied. It’s worth noting that the three herbs included here are well known for their ability to soothe intestinal discomfort.16 While the study used a standard extract, you could prepare a weak tea with these ingredients and give a couple of teaspoons up to three times a day. These herbs can also be taken individually as a diluted tea to ease colic. However, do remember to check with your doctor before giving your baby any herbal remedy.
Gripe water is another age-old remedy for colic in babies. However, research on whether it is effective is not conclusive, with some studies even finding it doesn’t work and may even cause problems like vomiting or constipation. While originally made with sugar, water, sodium bicarbonate and alcohol, the alcohol is no longer added in most commercial preparations. It may contain various beneficial herbs like cinnamon, cardamom, dill, chamomile, clove, licorice, fennel, lemon balm, and ginger. If you do choose to use gripe water, check with your doctor beforehand and opt for products that are free of alcohol and sugar.17 18
9. Take Measures To Prevent And Relieve Gas
Since intestinal gas can be a cause of colic, healthy habits that prevent this issue may help with colic. Here are a few tips:
- Lying on the back can trap gas. Giving your baby a little “tummy time” or holding them upright may help relieve discomfort. However, do keep in mind that your baby should always sleep on their back to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
- Babies below 12 months can find it difficult to digest cow’s milk while those below 4 months can have trouble with cereals. So make sure you don’t feed your baby these foods before they are ready for them age-wise.
- Juice can also lead to gas. Wait till the baby is at least 12 months before you introduce them to this food.
- Make sure you burp the baby during a feeding session as well as after feeding.19
10. Check And Adjust The Mother’s Diet
Breastfeeding mothers sometimes notice that certain foods in their diet appear to cause colic. Some foods may pass on through breastmilk and lead to digestive issues or gas in babies. Though more research is required in this direction, some foods linked to colic include:
- Onions, garlic, broccoli, beans, and turnips.
- Rhubarb, melons, prunes, apricots, and peaches
- Cow’s milk
If you find that your baby gets colicky after breastfeeding, keep a record of what you eat to check if any particular food could be contributing to the problem. Identifying and avoiding these foods can help.20
Taking care of a colicky baby can be difficult and frustrating. So don’t hesitate to reach out to family or friends if you need help. If you feel overwhelmed and immediate help is not available, place your baby in the crib and take a break to collect yourself before trying to soothe your baby again.21
|↑1, ↑6, ↑21||Colic. The Nemours Foundation.|
|↑2||Colic Symptoms & Causes. Boston Children’s Hospital.|
|↑3||Colic. National Health Service.|
|↑4, ↑13||Colic. American Pregnancy Association.|
|↑5||Ways to Comfort a Crying Baby. University of Michigan.|
|↑7, ↑11||Fussy Babies. Michigan Medicine.|
|↑8||Huhtala, Virpi, Liisa Lehtonen, Riitta Heinonen, and Heikki Korvenranta. “Infant massage compared with crib vibrator in the treatment of colicky infants.” Pediatrics 105, no. 6 (2000): e84-e84.|
|↑9||Infant Massage. University Of Michigan.|
|↑10||Ways to Comfort a Crying Baby. Michigan Medicine.|
|↑12||The cure for colic. The Guardian.|
|↑14||Savino, Francesco, Lisa Cordisco, Valentina Tarasco, Elisabetta Palumeri, Roberto Calabrese, Roberto Oggero, Stefan Roos, and Diego Matteuzzi. “Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17 938 in infantile colic: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Pediatrics (2010): peds-2010.|
|↑15||Koonce, Thomas, Anne Mounsey, and Kate Rowland. “Colicky baby? Here’s a surprising remedy.” The Journal of family practice 60, no. 1 (2011): 34.|
|↑16||Savino, Francesco, Francesco Cresi, Emanuele Castagno, Leandra Silvestro, and Roberto Oggero. “A randomized double‐blind placebo‐controlled trial of a standardized extract of Matricariae recutita, Foeniculum vulgare and Melissa officinalis (ColiMil®) in the treatment of breastfed colicky infants.” Phytotherapy research 19, no. 4 (2005): 335-340.|
|↑17||Jain, Keerthi, DhanDaPany GunaSeKaran, ChanDraSeKaran VenKateSh, and PalaniSamy SounDararaJan. “Gripe Water Administration in Infants 1-6 months of Age-A Cross-sectional Study.” Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR 9, no. 11 (2015): SC06.|
|↑18||Infantile Colic. American Family Physician.|
|↑19||Abdominal Gas and Colic. University of Michigan.|
|↑20||Diet, Breastfeeding, and Colic. University of Michigan.|