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When our son had colic, I remember once thinking that terrible ear-piercing wail was the ultimate sound of failure. More than anything I worried that it was somehow my fault. My fears were so deep and powerful that I couldn’t have voiced them at the time. It turns out that many of the things I was worried about were totally unfounded, so I thought I’d share some reassuring science and bust a few colic myths.

What is Colic?
The most commonly accepted medical definition of colic is a baby whose needs have all been met and who is otherwise healthy, but who cries for more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week for more than 3 weeks. A key symptom of colic is that the baby is very difficult/impossible to console by cuddling and soothing.

If your baby is crying excessively its important not to assume that your baby has colic, make sure you get your doctor to check your baby over, because there are other serious conditions with similar symptoms.

Myth #1 – Colic is caused by anxious/stressed parents
There is a prevailing urban myth out there that colic is caused by parental anxiety. It may help to know that this myth is simply unfounded. Scientists have conducted a whole raft of studies investigating whether there is a psychosocial cause of colic and found no evidence that parental anxiety causes colic. For example, even in a study where trained occupational therapists cared for colicky infants, they still cried for twice as long as infants without colic.

Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim to relax as much as you can. Obviously if you can reduce your stress levels that’s going to benefit everyone: you, your baby and your partner. However, you can rest assured that it is not your stress that is causing the colic, and it is very normal for the colic to cause you stress. Sometimes just knowing that can help a little.

Myth #2: Am I No Good At Parenting?
This is a common worry: one research study showed that mothers of colicky babies reported feeling less competent as mothers (not that they were less competent, but that they felt that way). I know that thought occurred to me more than once…

Estimates of colic vary widely, but a middle ground figure of around 20% is commonly accepted. That’s one in five babies screaming for more than 3 hours a day. Babies with colic are inherently very difficult to settle, so the fact that you’re finding it hard is because of the colic, it is not because you’re no good at parenting.

Myth #3: Colicky babies are ‘difficult’ or ‘fussy’
People sometimes imply that colic occurs because the baby has a ‘difficult’ temperament, so it can be a relief to know about a research study that followed up a group of babies with colic at one year old. This study showed that the colicky group had no behavioural differences using the Toddler Temperament Scale compared to a group of infants without colic.

What was your colic experience like? Are there other colic myths you’ve heard?

For more information about colic and what you can do about it check out Survivor’s Guide to Colic.

baby” image from Shutterstock
  • What was once known as colic is diagnosed as reflux now. Your baby may not just vomit up overflow it might release with such force that it literally goes across the room unless you are ready and cover your baby’s mouth. I have a friend who both her girls did that. They had to raise part of the cot under the mattress to help with the problem or the babies could both have choked on their own vomit.

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  • I can’t believe anyone would listen to these myths. They’re so unbelievable. I just thought my baby had colic because his digestive system was immature and didn’t know how to expel excess gas yet

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  • Interesting! Really interesting article! Thanks for sharing this!

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  • Thanks for a very interesting article. I didn’t have colicky kids but it is always nice to have more information on things like this for a better understanding.

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  • My first had horrid reflux that the doctors insisted was colic. I was brushed off as a new mum who didn’t know much. He’s 3 now and still suffers terribly from reflux, which could have been prevented had he been treated much earlier. Always trust your gut and get a second and third opinion. Colic is NOT a real illness, it’s just a way of saying “you have a needy baby, other than that we don’t know what’s wrong”

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  • My first baby had horrid colic, made no better by my mother in law hinting that it was due to me, on a myriad of fronts :(. Eventually the doctor (not the health care nurse I was visiting & getting more & more desperate & despondent) advised me to go off dairy, for us it was like a switch being turned on…. or off as the case may be. It was blissful to not see her in pain, to not hear the shrieks, to see her peaceful and calm rather than exhausted.

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  • Great information for my baby due in August. Thanks

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  • great read thank you so much for sharing

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  • Thank you very much for this article, very helpful

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  • Gosh it’s so much easier when they get older. Colic is one of those things that is so difficult to deal with, but you don’t even really know if it’s what is causing the problem in the first place!

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  • It is soooo hard dealing with a colicky baby.

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  • babies cry if they are hungry or in pain, it is always best to get them checked instead of assuming

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  • Luckily my bub wasn’t a colicky baby so I didn’t have these worries!

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  • I have been lucky to never have a baby with colic

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  • Our daughter had colic, she would cry from night until the early hours, was as good as gold during the day (sleeping from exhaustion no doubt) and was initially under the care of a paediatrician who prescribed medication that didn’t work.

    We stopped taking her to the paediatrician and tried other methods to relieve her pain that had been suggested to us and found great relief by giving her warm baths and massages – especially her tummy. She eventually found burping so much easier and by three months of age her colic had stopped.

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