January 31, 2013


Nanny B here, with the first of my monthly musings. Check back each month for a new post each month about babies and toddlers from the mouth of a nanny. This month I’m thinking about Colic.

What is Colic?

Colic is diagnosed when an otherwise healthy infant persistently has sudden unexplained bouts of severe crying lasting for hours. It is most often seen in babies between 3 weeks and 3 months and usually resolves itself by about 6 months. Babies may seem to be in pain, arching their backs and are inconsolable. Colic is most commonly observed in the late afternoon, evening, and night.

Is Colic Real?

I’m often asked whether or not colic actually exists, since there’s no medical explanation and the very definition require that the crying be unexplained and that the baby be otherwise healthy. I was going to write about whether or not I think Colic exists but the more I recalled my own experiences as a nanny, spoke to parents and carers, read blogs and forums and articles… the more I started to think that it doesn’t matter. Better questions would be: is your baby crying uncontrollably? Have you no idea why? Does it seem like nothing you do helps? Then whether you call it colic or not you have a problem and you are not alone.

How can Colic affect my family?

Parents who report their babies have colic are significantly more at risk of developing depression and experiencing relationship stress, mothers are more likely to experience breastfeeding failure and high levels of anxiety, and babies are more at risk of being misdiagnosed with reflux and given unnecessary medication, and of being victims of shaken baby syndrome. The unexplained crying almost always disappears after a few weeks or at most a few months regardless of any medical intervention (only 5% of babies presenting with colic are diagnosed with an illness). So your main focus should be how to comfort your child and, importantly, keep your sanity.

What can I do?

Routine – Regardless of your preferred parenting approach I strongly recommend you try setting a daily sleep/play/feed pattern to ensure your baby is getting enough sleep. Overtired and over stimulated babies are unable to relax and become more and more distressed as they fight the sleep they crave. Whether this is a reason for colic or an additional stresser, giving your baby enough rest will decrease their likelihood of working themselves as the day wears on.

Crying in arms – If you object to routine, or it seems to make no difference to your crying baby, you can step back from active comforting to just hold your baby while she cries. Most parents say cuddling, soothing, rocking, walking etc have no effect on their colicy baby. If this is the case then don’t wear yourself out but sit with your baby safe in your arms and let her cry. She will still be comforted by your presence and you can avoid the additional stress on you both of trying a dozen methods to calm her, none of which work anyway.

Take care of you – Long periods of crying are incredibly draining on you. The noise, your anxiety, sense of helplessness, and loss of sleep can wear you down so much you end up doing damage to yourself or, as is sometimes sadly the case, your baby. Give yourself permission to take time out. You’ll be surprised how a friend may be less affected by the crying than you and able to tolerate it while you take a break. The cot is a safe place to leave the baby while you stand under the shower or listen to some music. Having a cry yourself can release a lot of tension and pent up resentment. If there’s little you can do to change the situation anyway, taking time out to make sure you’re as calm as possible means when you are with your baby you’re helping to keep her calm and not feeding the crying with your own anxiety.

Whether or not colic exists, a baby that cries for no good reason for hours on end just plain sucks. Many others are experiencing the same thing as you right now. Reach out to anyone who can help you feel supported and take comfort in knowing that this, too, shall pass!

Brigid is a career nanny with over 15 years experience working with children and babies. She is dedicated to the care of infants and the very young, and the support and guidance of their parents and families. After having been integral in the care and raising of hundreds of children she has seen plenty, learnt a lot, and shares as much as she can.

  • I often wondered about colic too. I used to think it was a gps ‘go to’ when they had no uses why your baby cried so much


  • I’m not sure if it’s real or not either, my son was diagnosed with it as a tiny baby and the endless sleepless days and nights were very wearing. A non stop (nearly) screaming baby was not good :/


  • Believe me, colic does exist, adults can suffer from it too and believe me it is painful. I had two bouts of it as an adult. The pain was mainly in the left side of my stomach.
    Apparently I had severe colic as a baby. It is wind in your stomach. It is the main reason small babies are burped after feeds. Some babies, if unable to burp, actually “pass it” via the bowel. (putting crudely fart). My Dad could often feel like a knot in my stomach, press on it very gently with one finger, I would burp a couple of times and go to sleep. My Mum didn’t have the same technique. Crying babies tend to gasp in air and it can cause wind too. On a few occasions my Mum gave me an extra feed, burped me – I did big ones then I would sleep for hours!!! I was under the Head Paediatrician of the Adelaide Childrens Hospital. A young baby laying flat cannot burp up wind. If you suspect reflux you can help by raising the head of the bassinet or cot. With a cot, the best way is to put the baby at the top of the cot and shorten the sheet up to the baby’s length if you are using one. You can put something under the mattress to achieve raising it. e.g. a thick pillow. A Mum I know was advised to do this. She didn’t have a spare pillow and the shops weren’t open so she used phone books under the mattress, it definitely helped and her baby slept a lot better. I have since heard from a nurse that hospitals sometimes tilt their cribs. Do NOT say that burping a baby doesn’t help. How many Mums do not burp their baby.


  • May have only been a couple of times, but I certainly believe colic is real. It’s like saying wind pain, or silent reflux doesn’t exist. Not being able to see it doesn’t change anything. My son may have only had it a number of times, but he screamed till he turned purple and then screamed some more. It was horrible and hard to go through and I feel terrible for those who had it for a long time.


  • A very interesting article .. Thank you


  • I think anything that happens with your children is scary and of course causes up loss of sleep LOL


  • If our daughter could remember back when she was a baby, she would tell you it does exist and we can back her up lol! Her symptoms started once the sun went down and lasted into the wee hours, we were all exhausted – during the day she was as good as gold, probably still exhausted.

    Made a point of getting out of the house almost every day to keep in touch with the world outside and I have to say I was very fortunate as hubby helped with the soothing during the night, we took it in turns so at least we both managed to get some sleep at various times.

    Yes, it will pass. After three months peace reigned and we all slept through the night.


  • My first bub had this…she is big now but i wish i read this before. its very helpful information. thanks


  • Sure it’s real. And also very sdistressing for both mum and bub.


  • Anyone who’s experienced the distress of a baby suffering from colic would never doubt that it’s real. It hits the baby and the rest of the family too, as a tired and frazzled Mum can’t cope as well. And if in doubt about why bub is upset, always check with the doctor – better safe than sorry.


  • It is real…i know it. been there done that nd still distressing to think about it. poor babies


  • Thank heavens we never had to go through that


  • I was hospitalised with it as a child! is it real! come on!


  • I have seen babies with colic and it is very distressing


  • I believe colic is real


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