Colic or could it be tongue tie?

Unsettled baby?

If you are the parent of an unsettled baby that has colic, then I’m so sorry!!! It is horrible!!

 A colicky, windy, unsettled baby affects not just your baby, but everyone in the family!

We are often told that all babies cry, get trapped wind, that it’s normal and it will pass.  An element of this is true yes, but it’s not that straightforward!!

Why do babies get trapped wind?

Babies will take in air when they are feeding, this is normal and usually doesn’t lead to pain as the air mixes with other gasses that are present in their gut. Pain occurs when too much air is ingested.  This excess air creates increased pressure that cannot be burped or excreted out of the body.  The pressure building leads to feelings of pain and discomfort for your baby.

Excess air can get in if attachment, so how they latch, to the breast or bottle isn’t effective or your baby is gulping, struggling with fast flow of milk or can’t control the flow of milk effectively when feeding. This can lead to excess air being swallowed during feeding. Excess air intake also occurs during crying. You won’t stop air being ingested during feeding or crying, some air intake is normal, but it can become an issue if there are excessive amounts, causing a build-up of pressure.

This ingested air then travels into the baby’s lower gut. It can get trapped here because babies, especially younger babies, cant move or shift the air around themselves, they need an adult to help move this excess or trapped air. As adults when we get a bit of trapped wind, we can shift, fidget and move around to move it along, we can discreetly (or maybe not so discreetly in some cases) let it out when needed, young babies can’t do this in the same way for themselves.

Young babies also tend to spend long amounts of time laid on their backs and this can also affect the digestive process. The result of this trapped excess air is discomfort in their tummy/gut and they will communicate this discomfort to you by crying!

How do you know it's colic?

Diagnosis of colic used to be based on what was known as Wessel’s criteria of three. So, this was classified as a baby who had sudden and unexplained episodes of increased crying, for more than three hours a day, for more than 3 days, for more than 3 weeks. Nowadays it tends to be viewed more as an otherwise healthy baby having periods of inconsolable and unexplained episodes of incessant crying.

The important thing to understand is that colic is not a diagnosis- Colic is a symptom of something else. The root causes of these symptoms can differ, be complex and difficult to identify, but it is there is something that is causing your baby to be in this pain and discomfort.

 Many parents who have gone seeking answers to why their baby is unsettled have been met with this,

‘Yes, your baby has colic, off you go with your unsettled screaming baby, wait until it magically passes when they are about 4 months old!

The ‘it’s normal, it will pass, you are overreacting, off you go’, kind of response is unfortunately very common. It’s not supportive or helpful!  Although causes of unsettled, crying babies can be wide ranging, actually it is rarely due to an underlying medical cause, so it’s viewed as unlikely to be anything serious. I say two things to this. Firstly, as a parent, if your baby suddenly starts crying uncontrollably, or you feel there is something is wrong, always go and get them checked out! Trust what your gut/ your instinct is telling you, it doesn’t matter if you are wrong, but it will really matter if you are right!!!

Secondly although ‘colic’ is rarely a medical emergency, it is serious!  Coping with an inconsolable crying baby, for hours, days, weeks on end can have a huge impact on you as a parent. It’s isolating, lonely, you feel overcome with guilt and feelings of failure! The overwhelm and exhaustion could put your baby or yourself at risk or harm when it becomes too much! You absolutely need help and support with this.

Tongue tie?

Colic can have many different causes, but often it can be a symptom of an infant feeding issue, and tongue tie is one such possibility. A tongue tie is when the lingual frenulum, the piece of tissue that is underneath the tongue, is too short or tight and restricts the movement and function of your baby’s tongue. This restriction can cause feeding difficulties. In the case of colic, it can be that impaired function means excessive air intake occurring whilst feeding, sub-optimal attachment or latch, poor control of milk flow, ineffective transfer of milk, all things that can lead to excess air intake and build up.

This is not always fully understood by some of the professionals you may seek support from, so if you are having any of the symptoms below, then it is a good idea to seek support from someone who is in the know!!

Signs of a tongue tie include,

Now your baby may not have all of these symptoms, it may just be one or two of them and it’s also important to acknowledge that having some or even many of these symptoms doesn’t mean it definitely is a tongue tie either. infant feeding symptoms can overlap and there may be other things going on! Again, another reason why getting support from a professional who is skilled and experienced in infant feeding.

You may also find you are given inaccurate information as to why the issue isn’t a tongue tie, such as 

  • They are gaining weight so can’t have a tongue tie- false! Babies can still gain weight, but feeding might not be optimal, there can be issues further down the line, or they are only gaining because you are working overtime to ensure they are getting milk!!! Breastfeeding can be a real commitment babies do feed frequently, but if you are exhausted and overwhelmed and feel your baby is feeding constantly, this is an issue that needs looking at!


  • No pain- although a common symptom, not all mums experience pain if their baby has a tongue tie, so don’t assume no pain means it can’t be a tongue tie.


  • You were told there was no tongue tie- who told you this? Not all professionals are trained to assess tongue tie and unfortunately many will look in the baby’s mouth or look at the latch and say all looks fine. It’s not only about how it looks, but also about how it feels! How does it feel to you, what does a whole feed look like and how is the baby’s tongue actually moving. If no-one felt how the tongue is moving, then it wasn’t a tongue tie assessment.

What do I do if I think my baby has a tongue tie?

 Seek an Infant feeding assessment from somebody skilled in assessing infant feeding who can help you optimise feeding and identify if there are any issues. Good practitioners should take a full history, observe a full feed, listen and support you to optimise feeding but also help you put a plan and strategies in place to address any issues that have been identified.

Support to identify the root cause- unfortunately colic and tongue tie are not always fully understood by the professionals that support you, so you may need to seek support from elsewhere. You do not have to just ride colic out. It may be a tongue tie that is the root cause of this, but there are many other factors that can contribute to the difficulties and discomfort your baby is having. It can be confusing and overwhelming for you to try and navigate the mixed message and opinions you are given. Having a clear evidence-based approach to identifying root causes, as well as giving you the support you need when you are the parent of an unsettled baby can make a huge difference to your family.

Root to Calm Programme

If you are the parent of an unsettled baby, then you may be interested in The Root to calm programme. This is a unique, bespoke coaching community for parents with unsettled babies. My framework supports you to identify root causes of your baby’s discomfort as well as empowering you to parent your unsettled baby with confidence. It’s an evidenced based, holistic, stepped  programme, to help you and your baby thrive, not just try and survive!

 If your baby is unsettled, it’s rarely a quick fix. You need ongoing support to help you overcome the challenges you are facing. To find out more about how my programme can help you, follow this link to book a free call with me. We will talk about where you are right now, where you want to be and how I can help you both move forwards, to a happier more settled baby.

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Alice Lucken

Alice Lucken

I am an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Parenting Practitioner. I have been a nurse for nearly 20 years and have over 10 years of experience working with families as a Health Visitor and Infant Feeding Specialist, supporting complex infant feeding challenges. I now work independently to help families overcome any infant feeding or parenting challenges they are facing.

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