I first heard of colic when I read my first baby book. It effects up to 25% of babies. I assumed I’d be one of the lucky, unaffected ones, particularly as I planned the breastfeed and I’d read that colic in breastfed babies was less common. I wasn’t. It took me a while to realise it was colic. The first time that your newborn screams for a 4 hour stretch you find it hard to believe that it’s actually perfectly normal. Once you’ve changed them, fed them and made sure they are the right temperature and they are still screaming you become convinced that there must be something seriously wrong with them. It was only once the pattern of evening crying became clear that I realised it must be colic.
Can Breastfed Babies Get Colic?
Unfortunately, while it’s considered less common, colic in Breastfed Babies definitely happens. Both of my babies were exclusively breastfed for the whole time they had colic.
How do you Solve a Problem like Colic?
I like to solve problems so I immediately began researching what I could do to help. I was horrified to find the answer was, very little. The NHS website makes a few suggestions, cuddling, warm baths, making sure they burp after a feed, but it’s the last line that tells the real story
“…there’s very little evidence these things work”.
And that’s about the size of it. For most babies, colic has settled down by 4 months. Until then, it’s likely you will have an inconsolable baby for several hours every single night. And it is hard. It’s important to admit that because, while colic is fairly common, it’s impact on parents is rarely discussed.
As a Mum your job it is to look after your baby. If you can’t stop that baby from screaming for hours at a time, it’s easy to feel like you’ve failed. You haven’t. There is no rhyme or reason to which babies get colic and which don’t. Nothing you have done as a parent has caused it. Those hours of crying can feel totally overwhelming but it isn’t your fault, you aren’t a bad parent, just an unlucky one. This can be particularly tough if you’ve just become a new mum..
Why is Colic in a Breastfed Baby Different from Colic in a Bottle fed Baby?
Essentially it’s because the go to remedies for colic are often more difficult to implement in breastfed babies.
Babies who are only used to drinking from the breast will find a syringe full of gripe water pretty unwelcome. Many remedies need to be given in a bottle which can be difficult if your breast baby, like many, won’t take a bottle.
On the subject of bottles, many suggestions for relieving colic involve changing to different bottle but for a breast baby with colic, this isn’t an options as boobs aren’t interchangeable!
Feeding baby sitting up is often suggested but again, this is difficult when you’re breastfeeding, particularly if your breasts are on the small side.
Through burping after each feed is also recommended but as breastfed babies take in less air when they feed there often isn’t that much to come up.
The Things you Can do for a Breastfed Baby with Colic
There are some suggestions for relieving colic that you will be able to try with a breastfed baby.
A warm bath can help some babies and is definitely worth a try. You can also try by cycling their their legs which is thought to help move gas along.
While you might not be able to keep them upright while feeding, you can try to keep them upright after. You can also try the different holds suggested for colic.
The bonus of breastfeeding a baby with colic is that you don’t have to worry about over feeding them in the same way as you do with bottles so if they find breastfeeding comforting you can offer it.
Parenting is Harder if your Baby has Colic
It’s ok to feel angry and frustrated by the constant crying. It isn’t a pleasant sound and listening to it for hours on end is hard, especially since you’re every instinct is telling you to make it stop. Try not to worry about what the neighbours think though. Newborn crying sounds deafening to a parent but my neighbours say they heard nothing! When I had my second, her crying never once woke her brother so, while it feels like your baby is keeping the whole street awake, it’s unlikely to be the case. In my house the only other party who was bothered by the crying was the cat. She would come and bite my ankles, presumably telling me to make it stop. I kid myself that she was concerned for the baby but I suspect in reality she just didn’t like the noise.
I was unlucky that both of my children had colic. With my son, I could sometimes soothe him briefly by feeding him, but nothing would console my daughter. She screamed every night between 5pm and 10pm. We tried all of the different holds, spent ages after each feed burping her, gave her colief and gripe water, tried warm baths and leg cycling. She just screamed and screamed and screamed until she eventually fell asleep, completely exhausted.
People Don’t See the Struggle
This made bedtime for my toddler extremely difficult, particularly on the nights I had to do it alone. He was just over two when she was born so still needed help to do most things and didn’t appreciate his sister howling through his bedtime story. It quickly became our normal and it was only when a friend came to stay and was shocked by our “normal” that I realised that life isn’t like that for all parents.
That’s the thing with colic though, other people don’t see it. It’s likely that your baby behaves perfectly normally during the day so friends and family don’t realise how much you’re struggling. That’s why it’s so important to ask for help. It’s hard to leave your crying baby with someone else but remember, they will cry whether you are there or not. If you have no help, it’s ok to put them somewhere safe and take a few minutes break. You can also call the Cry-sis helpline and talk to someone who understands.
If you have a colicky baby, breastfed or otherwise, be kind to yourself. Keep remembering, this isn’t your fault. Ask for help and accept it. Remember that colic won’t cause your baby any permanent damage. When your baby is crying and you can’t comfort them, 4 months seems like forever but this too will pass. Your early months with your baby might not be how you imagined but you will come out of the other side. Things will get better.
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