A parenting expert has claimed that colic doesn’t actually exist.

In 1954, American paediatrician Morris Wessel offered the widely accepted definition of colic as a healthy baby who inexplicably fusses or cries for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week for more than three weeks.

Since then, it has become a common condition amongst infants – with at least one in five infants born in the UK diagnosed with colic.

But Sarah Ockwell-Smith, a parenting and childcare expert and author of The Gentle Parenting Book, has criticised the tendency for doctors to immediately look for a medical diagnosis – and instead suggests that worried parents can treat so-called “colic” with simple changes to popular childcare techniques.

Sarah said: “Many babies who cry constantly simply need to be held longer. Our society is very much focused on “putting babies down” out of fear of creating bad sleeping habits, a theory which stems back to Victorian parenting strategies.”

“Science actually tells us that the more we hold our babies, the more secure we make them and the less they cry.”

Meanwhile, Sarah also believes that while many think colic is caused by tummy pain or trapped wind, “undiagnosed feeding problems” are a more likely cause – such as gut bacteria imbalances in formula-fed babies or babies who’ve received antibiotics, tongue-tie or latch problems.

She says: “These problems are easily put right with the help of a good lactation consultant and probiotic supplements.”

But above all, spending time with a baby, holding a baby and safely sharing a bed instead of “putting baby down” for a nap are all keys to putting an end to those heart-wrenching cries.

Sarah says: “Like all other mammals, our young are meant to sleep with us. No other mammal sleeps with their baby away from them.

“Research has repeatedly shown that sharing a bed with babies results in significantly more sleep and less crying.

“The Japanese do not have a word for colic and most Japanese parents share a bed with their baby for the first few months of life.”

Symptoms of colic via Better Health Vic

Colic tends to appear in the first two to four weeks of life and peaks at around six to eight weeks of age. Usually, the baby seems quite happy until the late afternoon or early evening.

Symptoms include:

•Frowning and grimacing
•Reddening of the face
•The baby may pull up its legs, suggesting stomach pains
•Loud and long screaming fits
•Loud tummy rumblings
•The baby cannot be consoled
•The crying lasts for three hours or more
•The baby passes wind or faeces (poo) around the time the crying stops, which could be coincidental
•The baby recovers, none the worse for the experience.

How to help a crying baby via Better Health

By holding, stroking or rocking your baby, the infant is learning that you are there for them, even if they are not able to calm down yet.

Try the following ideas, which may help to calm your baby:

•Respond quickly if your baby is crying. This may mean that they will cry less later on.
•Crying babies tend to arch their backs and stiffen their legs. Holding them curled in a C (or flexed) position helps to calm them down.
•Check that your baby is not too hot or cold or uncomfortable in some way.
•Wrapping or ‘swaddling’ in a cotton sheet can be calming.
•Many babies soothe themselves by sucking, so a dummy can be helpful, once your breast milk supply is going well.
•Rocking and patting can help soothe a baby.
•Soft lighting can also help some babies who may be distressed by harsh lights.
•Baby slings are great to provide comfort and contact if the baby needs to be held.
•Deep baths and gentle massage relax some babies, but they often don’t help if your baby is already crying.
•Soft music or noise that has a beat or rhythm, such as a loud clock, may help.
•You may be trying too hard to calm the baby (too much bouncing, patting and burping). Put your baby down somewhere safe for a while and see if they settle.
•Take the baby for a walk in a pram or a sling or for a ride in the car. You might find yourself going out for many rides in the car for a couple of weeks, but this will not last forever and many babies seem to find it helps them calm down. Don’t drive if you are too stressed to drive safely.

This is quite frustrating to read I must say. I walked the floors day in day out with both my children, as do thousands of other parents. It certainly wasn’t something a cuddle would easily fix.

Did you have a baby who suffered with colic? What would you like to say to Sarah?

Share your comments below.

Image via Shutterstock

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  • This expert has 4 children of her own. “Honors degree in Psychology, specialising in child development”, worked 5 years in “Pharmaceutical Research and Development, working with clinical trial data” and later retrained as an “Antenatal Teacher, Hypnotherapist/Psychotherapist, Developmental Infant Massage Instructor and Birth and Postnatal Doula”.

    Do I agree with her? Yes and no.
    As a society I do believe we tend to “put our children down” and reach for the easy solution (pharmaceutical medicine) rather than try to spend more time trying to calm the baby “naturally”. I have seen this first hand.
    But I do also believe there are some babies and parents that the natural way just doesn’t help, so going the medicinal route helps.


  • my children never had it either, although i wouldn’t say it doesn’t exist..i have seen a baby crying for attention and i have seen a colic baby…they act in and are treated in completely different ways.


  • Both my boys didn’t get it. Although i co slept, (safely), breastfed and i did hold on to my bub a fair bit rather then put him down :)


  • My son was diagnosed with colic and it was a suspect diagnosis then, he’s nearly 26. Now my grandson is here and he’s been diagnosed with the same thing. I always thought a baby had to adjust to its internal organs working for the first time and that’s what caused the pain. My grandson was forever pulling his legs up, grunting, growning, pulling faces, crying and he farted a lot. His poos also slowed from a couple a day to 1 in 36 hours. Once he poos, he seems to settle. It may not be colic, but I think there’s stomach pain caused by something. I believe it’s their body adjusting to being used, something it didn’t do in the womb


  • Six children and never would I had listen to these so called expects, some who have not had children. I always found a rhythm with my lot that would ease the pain, never the same but somehow found something that would work. All my children started out BF, never had antibiotics due my problems with them as a baby. So what ever you want to call it, something is there and the wind has to be released somehow.


  • My child actually had colic cried for 8 hours straight. All I did was hold my baby and comfort him. I am highly annoyed that this parenting expert suggests that these techniques can lessen the severity of colic. I think I speak for all mothers whom have had a child with colic, that we have tried them all. Colic is caused by an immature stomach in babies. By 4 mths it settles down. I would love to ask this specialist what her experience is with babies suffering from colic.


  • My daughter didn’t have colic, she had reflux.


  • one of my kids had very bad colic and I totally disagree with all her comments as she clearly has not every seen a child night after night who is suffering in pain who is held, breast fed, not on antibiotics etc as she suggests are the problems. And talking about putting baby down for a nap. this is not happening at nap time!!


  • I did have a baby diagnosed with colic and I did question the diagnosis, especially when colic medication made no difference whatsoever


  • My kids had mild colic and outgrew it pretty fast.


  • If it isn’t colic what is it called??? According to my Mum and Dad if trapped wind for hours isn’t colic what is it?? My parents wore out a lot of my clothes and baby blankets in patches where they rubbed my back and tummy trying to help me to get rid of it. Sometimes my Dad could feel the “knot” of wind in my tummy. Occasionally my Mum would give me an extra feed in sheer desperation , I would do a couple of really loud burps, would go to sleep shortly afterwards and sleep for a few hours. They took me the Head Paeditatrician at the Childrens Hospital for nearly 12 months before I finally settled down and had no more bad wind. Putting me down did not work. They tried that. Just for the record, you can also get colic as an adult.


  • Lke it


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