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How to Spot the Difference between Colic and Silent Reflux

Both colic and silent reflux are very difficult conditions to deal with. When your baby is suffering, you are suffering. Both colic and silent reflux will test your patience and make moments of your baby’s first few months challenging. It is always important to remember that you are not alone, it is not your fault and it will not last forever!

When an infant is unsettled for no obvious reason, people automatically assume the cause is colic but in some cases the cause is actually silent reflux. If the latter is the case then getting the right advice is crucial and so in this post we will help you to understand both conditions, how to spot the difference and what you can do to help.

What is colic?

Why some babies get colic and others don’t has not been determined, nor have the root causes. Some believe it is down to an immature digestive system and others that it maybe created by a build-up of gas, in other words trapped wind. This can be thought to build up through the day as baby is not yet able to release it all by themselves, leading to painful stomach cramps from early evening which is why it is common for your baby to cry at this time and become difficult to settle, although there is no definitive time frame for the symptoms to occur.

What is silent reflux?

Silent reflux can also cause a great deal of discomfort in babies, leading to them being unsettled, but may be missed because unlike reflux, there is no vomiting. Babies who have silent reflux have the same problem but the sick flows back down. Sometimes it doesn’t even come up far enough to swallow but the stomach acids are still sitting in the oesophagus longer than they should. This causes pain and subsequent discomfort.

What to look out for to spot colic

  • Your baby is usually quite happy in the morning and throughout the day

  • Your baby becomes unsettled after 4pm and potentially into the early hours

  • Your baby cries for more than 3 hours constantly

  • Your baby brings his legs up to his stomach

  • Colic can start in the first month and starts to improve when your baby is two or three months old

What to look out for to spot silent reflux

  • Your baby could be unsettled at any time of the day or night

  • Your baby’s unsettled periods are more unpredictable but are more likely after a feed

  • Your baby has frequent spit ups

  • Your baby might avoid feeding

  • Poor weight gain

  • Baby arches back as pain is in the oesophagus

  • Your baby won’t show signs of improvement by 3 months old but most babies outgrow it by a year.

It is important to remember that this is just a guide. Your baby is unique and won’t necessarily tick all the boxes on any symptom list. It is also worth remembering that consistent crying could also be caused by other conditions such as an ear infection, food intolerance or allergies. If you are ever in doubt speak to your health visitor or doctor.

What can you do?

When you have spoken to a health professional and have ascertained the cause of your baby’s tears there are some actions you can take yourself to relieve the situation. These are not cures but can ease the symptoms.


  • Hold your baby while they cry

  • Baby wear if you can

  • Take time to wind after feeding

  • If bottle feeding look for bottles designed to reduce intake of gas

  • Give your baby a warm bath

  • Take your baby into a dark and quiet room

  • Lay your baby across your lap on their tummy and rub their back

  • Massage your baby regularly to aid the release of gas (see video for an effective routine for colic relief)

Silent reflux

  • Feed your baby upright

  • Don’t lie baby down straight after feeding – keep them upright for half an hour

  • Baby wear if you can

  • Avoid over feeding your baby, when they show signs of being full stop immediately

  • If your baby spits up in a feed, stop feeding and wait till the next feed

  • Massage your baby to settle and soothe

How can Tots Play help?

Tots Play run baby classes nationwide where we introduce you to a range of techniques and ideas to help you soothe, settle and get to know your baby and giving you more insight into what they like and respond to best. Our Baby Development course, suitable for babies from birth to 6 months, includes a full body massage routine, including strokes to help ease the symptoms described above. Learning baby massage, and other calming techniques within the structure and guidance of a course like this ensures that you get the most out of it and your new knowledge can provide your baby with real relief.

Our classes also allow you and your baby the time and space to explore a wide range of play experiences including yoga, sensory play, sign language, music and physical play together, all designed to help boost development and be lots of fun. Classes are available for older babies, toddlers and preschoolers too.

Find a Class

To find your nearest Tots Play class, click HERE, and come along and join us soon.

No classes near you yet? If you would like to help and support families in your area through offering our unique baby and toddler play programme, get in touch HERE to find out more about our franchise programme, and you could be running your own, fun and rewarding business around your own family very soon.

*Remember to always seek medical advice if you are concerned about your baby and excessive crying.*

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