VHI’s Dr Bernadette Carr: Colic and difficulty sleeping

My baby is almost three months old and she cries every evening for about two hours and it can be difficult to soothe her. Could she have colic?

Colic affects up to three out of 10 babies and is one of the most distressing problems in infancy. It is usually presented as intermittent episodes of screaming, drawing up of legs and refusing to be comforted. There is no vomiting and the infant continues to thrive. Babies who are otherwise healthy cry repeatedly more than three hours/day for more than three days/week, usually in the evenings although some babies may cry throughout the day or night. In most babies, it has usually gone by the age of three to four months.

Despite a huge amount of research, the cause of colic is unknown, so it is not anything you are doing wrong. It is thought babies may have abnormal gut movement and abdominal pain or there is an alteration of gut microorganisms leading to changes in the bowel function and gas production. I would advise you bring your baby to your GP who can examine her and rule out any other condition that might be a reason for the crying.

In the meantime here are some general suggestions to consider:

* Make sure your baby is not cold, hot, hungry or has a wet/ dirty nappy.

* Try to keep the atmosphere as relaxed a possible — babies pick up on anxiety and stress.

* Holding your daughter may help to soothe her.

You should try to have help with your child during these crying bouts rather than trying to cope alone. Take turns with your partner and make sure that both of you get a good night’s sleep even if you have to take it in turns.

If, before you get to the appointment, you become concerned about the crying or if your daughter is distressed, you need to seek urgent medical attention for her.

I am a woman in my early 50s and have always been a good sleeper, until now. Over the last few weeks I have found it difficult to get asleep, sometimes I wake up during the night and find it hard to get back to sleep. Is this a symptom of the menopause?

Problems with sleep are common during the menopause. The menopause is caused by a change in the balance of the body’s oestrogen levels. The symptoms that women can experience include hot flushes and night sweats which can also add to difficulties with sleeping. Anyone who experiences any degree of insomnia may find that they are tired the following day and that their quality of life is affected.

I would advise you to make an appointment with your GP for a general check-up and to discuss the difficulties you are experiencing.

In the meantime here are some general suggestions which might help:

* Have a regular time for going to bed and getting up during the week and at weekends.

* There is evidence suggesting that regular sustained aerobic exercise such as swimming or running improves several symptoms, including sleeping difficulty.

* Before you go to bed turn off the television and make time to read or have a warm (not hot) bath.

* Try not to worry about sleep problems — sometimes easier said than done.

* Don’t watch television in bed, make phone calls or check or send emails and texts.

* Cut down on caffeine and try to avoid in the four hours before going to bed. The same applies to alcohol.

* If you smoke, stop.

* The bedroom should be quiet, well-ventilated and cool, avoid having too many blankets.

When you wake during the night, don’t look at the clock, this can become a habit and add to your worry about not sleeping. When you set the alarm, turn the clock face away from you.

It would be useful for your GP if you had a note of the number of nights you experienced difficulty in getting to sleep and how many times you woke during the night. You should also bring details of any medication, both prescription and over-the-counter, that you are taking.

I am sure your GP will be able to offer suggestions.


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