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What are the causes of colic?


crying baby

In the early weeks, colic symptoms are often mild and may not appear serious. General restlessness, moaning and groaning, some cramps and short bouts of crying are the norm. As time progresses, baby will show more pronounced signs of distress. Although discomfort is most commonly from the digestive system, there are other causes of colic issues to consider.


cross section of digestive system

Gas and wind related causes of colic


Upper digestive tract - stomach

Babies swallow gas when they feed. if this gas does not get released (burped up), discomfort and indigestion can follow. At first, this occurs soon after feeds. but if it continues, winds pass through the intestines leading to further bloating, cramps and reflux. Around 25% of cases. Masterclass: I teach a routine of six 'active' burping techniques that get the deeper burps to release. The routine takes 6-7 minutes and should be done after and before feeding for a week. Almost all babies will start to burp well if you do this.


Lower digestive tract - intestinal

The most common cause of colic symptoms is an excessive amount of gas in the baby’s colon and intestinal tract. The classic colic symptoms are bloating, cramping, moaning and groaning, pushing and straining. Reflux often starts because the milk is not flowing through the digestive tract as fast as it should. Around 50% of cases. Masterclass: I teach five of the best ways to massage and mobilise the most common sites of trapped gas.


mother feeding baby with a baby bottle


Neuro-musculoskeletal Colic

Not true colic but symptoms can overlap

Issues with alignment, muscle spasms or an overwhelmed nervous system, can produce symptoms that seem like colic. This often looks like general discomfort, often with cramping and crying. Birth trauma and position in the womb can lead to imbalance in the musculo-skeletal system. Likewise, overstimulation can cause a type of sensory overload.


This type of 'colic' can be harder to diagnose and is often helped by a chiropractor who specialises in babies. Around 15% of colicky babies fall into this category.


Masterclass: I teach a series of stretches which target the most common areas where muscle tension can be released.


Food related colic

Moms diet can upset baby

Although this is relatively uncommon, there are instances when something in mom's diet may not be well tolerated by baby's immature digestive tract. Most times this is imagined by mom but if you suspect there is a link, an exclusion diet should be tried by mom. Most likely to have an effect would be dairy foods, alcohol, spicy foods and cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, etc.)


Enzyme related colic

Baby can't digest properly

Some babies may not tolerate and digest certain types of formula. There are certain clues to look for and you may need to switch to a different type. In some cases, baby does not have the correct balance of good and bad bacteria in their gut (anti-biotic induced?). In these cases, probiotic supplements may help. This is unlikely in breastfed babies. Breast milk contains both foremilk and hindmilk. The foremilk, which comes first, contains more sugars like lactose, while the hindmilk is richer in fat. Some experts believe that too much foremilk may result in a relative lactose overload. This may contribute to gas or fussiness in babies. Try empty each breast before moving on to the next.

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