The First 1000 Days: What causes colic in babies at night?

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While baby sleeps like a dream during the day, come 5 o’clock all hell breaks loose! They call it ‘the witching hour’. The period in the early evening when baby goes haywire for no apparent reason. Persistent crying and difficulty feeding ensue the next few hours, until suddenly, baby is asleep once again.

Why is colic worse at night?

There is a theory that the circadian rhythm influences gut motility in infants. The circadian rhythm refers to the body’s natural 24-hour clock, regulated by hormones that tell us to wake up in the morning and become sleepy in the evening.

Serotonin which is the hormone precursor to melatonin (our sleep hormone) causes an increase in gut motility (movement). Because baby is not yet able to regulate the cycle of turning serotonin into melatonin, scientists think there may be too much serotonin, causing intestinal cramps, pain and discomfort at night.

By about 3 to 4 months of age, when colic usually resolves, the sleep hormone patterns are established which may be the reason why gastrointestinal pain and cramping appear to reduce with age. Although, more research is needed to confirm this theory.

How to help a colic baby through the witching hours

Baby colic relief tips:

  1. Baby colic drops may help to provide symptomatic relief from gastrointestinal pain.
  2. Putting baby in a wearable carrier and walking around the house can help to soothe a colic baby.
  3. Offer baby small amounts of milk frequently if bub is having difficulty feeding.
  4. Give baby a warm and soothing bath.

And above all, try and remain clam. If you find yourself becoming destressed or angry, put baby safely in their cot and walk away for a few minutes. Take turns with your partner or a family member if possible, to allow yourself a break.

Bibliography

  1. Weissbluth L et al. Med Hypotheses. 1992 Oct;39(2):164-7.
  2. İnce, T et al. World J Pediatr 14, 392–398 (2018).
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