Tips for managing colic and reflux

By Pregnancy, Birth and Baby

Colic and reflux are very common in newborn babies, but they can be distressing and exhausting for parents to manage so here are some tips to help you through.

Identifying colic in your baby

Babies with colic cry excessively and frequently, and crying may last for several hours. You may notice your baby’s face becomes flushed and they may clench their fists, draw their knees up to their tummy, or arch their back. Colic often stops by four months of age or by six months at the latest.

If your baby has colic, they may appear to be in distress. However, the crying outbursts are not harmful and your baby will continue to feed and gain weight normally.

Comforting your baby

There’s no ‘best’ way to comfort your baby or reduce the symptoms of colic. Try some of the following to see what works best for you and your baby:

  • Holding your baby during a crying episode can sometimes help, as can wrapping them snugly in a blanket or baby sling. Try different positions such as on your shoulder, cradled in your arms or lying tummy-down along your forearm. Rocking them or carrying them around the house might be helpful
  • Watch what you eat and drink when breastfeeding. Caffeinated drinks, alcohol and spicy food can aggravate colic
  • Use a ‘fast flow’ teat if you are bottle feeding, as holes in teats that are too small may cause your baby to swallow air as they feed
  • Always burp your baby after a feed. Sit your baby upright or hold them against your shoulder, making sure you support their neck and head. Gently rub their back and tummy until they burp
  • Some babies find ‘white noise’ soothing. This is the background sound of a washing machine or vacuum cleaner
  • Gentle stomach or back rubs or a warm bath may also help to relieve colic

You should see your doctor if your baby cries excessively. This is so your doctor can rule out conditions that may be causing your baby’s crying. Your doctor can also advise about what you can do to help your baby, including what treatments are available.

Is it reflux or vomiting?

Reflux is when babies spit up milk through their mouth or nose. It can be caused by a loose sphincter muscle at the top of the stomach by air bubbles trapped in the stomach, or by your baby drinking milk too quickly. Reflux is not the same as vomiting, which is forceful and will usually upset your baby. Vomiting can also be a sign of illness.

Ways to minimise reflux

Reflux is not discomforting to your baby, and your baby may not seem to notice, but there are some things you can do to minimise it, including:

  • Make each feed calm and relaxed. Hold your baby in an upright position, not lying down, while you feed them
  • Feed your baby without delay. They may have swallowed air if they have cried for a long time before a feed
  • Check the size of the bottle teat. The bottle should leak several drops of milk per second. A hole that is too big will let your baby swallow too quickly and they are likely to spit up the excess. A hole that is too small forces your baby to suck very hard and swallow air
  • Burp them several times during each feeding. It works best to support their head and burp them sitting on your lap
  • Keep your baby upright for 30 minutes after feeding. An infant seat or car seat works well
  • Make sure nappies are not too tight and do not put pressure on your baby’s stomach

If your baby is otherwise healthy and happy, and they are just bringing up milk, nothing needs to be done. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns, or if your baby is not gaining weight, there is a change in your baby’s bowel movements or urination, or if they shows signs of discomfort or pain.

Pregnancy, Birth and Baby is an Australian government initiative operated by Healthdirect Australia that offers free and confidential information, advice and counselling to women, their partners, friends and relatives about conceiving, pregnancy, childbirth and your baby’s first year. It’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week online and over the phone.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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