By: 17 March 2023
What is colic and how to deal with it

Peter Walker, a UK expert on Developmental Baby Massage, discusses the signs of colic and how to relieve it

What IS colic? 

Colic is the name given to repeated episodes of intense crying, often at the same time of day, or late afternoon with no apparent cause. Symptoms of colic include sudden and loud crying and a red face with intense facial expressions, all of which are indicative of pain. Other physical symptoms may include tensing the belly, with the baby drawing their limbs in towards their tummy and then extending and arching their back. 

There are a variety of factors that can cause this, and as these can also be symptomatic of more serious disorders, if you are unsure, or if these bouts are reoccurring, best to consult your doctor, health visitor or breast-feeding councilor, to ensure that nothing is being overlooked.

What can you do to help the baby? 

Colic is also a term often used to describe long periods of crying that can reoccur in the early evening, and this seems to be a phenomena that affects many babies around a similar time. Colic is usually the result of trapped wind or constipation, and regular periods of supervised tummy time will help to keep your baby’s tummy relaxed and bring about a variety of benefits not least of which is digestive ease. However, ‘tummy time’ is best practiced once you have enabled your baby to do it. This means, when your baby is at their best, laying him/her belly forward over your thighs, and rocking and stroking gently, to assist your baby to release ‘physiological flexion’ the tension imposed throughout the front of their body from the fetal position in the womb. 

During a period of ‘colic’, there are a number of things that you may wish to try to make this more comfortable for both you and your baby. Firstly, stay relaxed when holding your baby and if you become very stressed then ask for some assistance to keep your baby ‘in arms’ while you take a little time out to make yourself a warm drink, and relax. 

Relax the belly and you will relax your baby and the same applies to you, so first try sitting down and relaxing your neck and shoulders. Focus on some light exhalations which will allow you to relax your own belly and quite literally, help you to ‘calm down’. 

Having done this first, if ‘colic’ has been confirmed, there are a couple of Developmental Baby Massage’ techniques that have proven to be extremely effective, especially when used together:

‘Tiger in the Tree’ is a good technique to try first. I have used this successfully with my own children and many of those brought to me, and in my classes who were in distress. 

Tiger in the Tree is a holding position during which the baby is held laying forward over your forearms. As with ‘tummy time’ laying the baby tummy forward can assist relaxation. Once positioned in this way rocking gently from the hip and patting the diaphragm can encourage the tummy to relax. As soon as you feel this you can then manipulate the tummy very gently and lightly with the palm of your hand, to ease the baby’s discomfort.

Using Tiger in the Tree as suggested can bring relief during a period of distress. This technique has been shown by my teachers to have a very high rate of success. Between periods of discomfort tummy massage can be practiced and more ‘tummy time’ can be encouraged. 

‘Tiger in the Tree’ allows you to hold your baby in both arms (much easier to sustain). First warm your hand and place it across the baby’s tummy Now gently pat the lower chest and rock your baby’s legs from the hips down. Holding your baby in this position gently massage their tummy with a warm relaxed hand, from side to side. Don’t squeeze.You can try ‘Tiger in the Tree’ when your baby is at their most distressed. Show your partner so you can take it in turns to comfort your baby in this position. As the baby is turned away from the breast they will not ‘root’ for milk. If your baby fails to respond to this you may wish to try a light feed, suckling can be a source of comfort as well as a source of nourishment. 

When your baby is calm and at their best, try this ‘Cranial Sacral’ technique. Sometimes birth can cause torsion in the baby’s neck and compression in the neck and shoulders as the baby negotiates the birth canal. This can also result in periods of fractiousness and anxiety. 

Between periods of discomfort, when your baby is at his/her best, try sitting comfortably behind the baby, and holding your baby’s head in the palms of your warm hands. Rest your hands on the floor. Release, and then push down very gently on your baby’s shoulders and return to holding their head in the palms of your relaxed hands. 

Peter’s book Developmental Baby Massage is available from Amazon 

© Image courtesy of Sandra Ferreira – Portugal / Shambala Yoga

For more information about Peter Walker and Developmental Baby Massage visit / Instagram @thebabieswebsite