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What is colic in babies?

What is colic in babies

Table of Contents

What is colic in babies? What are the symptoms? Lets start out with a mini-diagnosis:

Does your infant cry for several hours at a time and resist your every effort to soothe their tears? If so, they might be suffering from colic.

What is colic in babies anyway?

Colic is not a disorder or disease; it is a condition where your baby cries without any reason for more than 3 hours per day, more than 3 times per week, and for more than 3 weeks. Hence, infants suffering from this condition are commonly known as colic babies. While the situation is a bit of mystery, health professionals agree on a few things:

  • Colic usually starts at almost 2 weeks of age if your baby is full-term, or possibly later if the baby is pre-term
  • It commonly goes away on its own in three to four months
  • Colic can occur regardless of your infant’s age, sex, birth order, or whether they are bottle-feed or breast-feed
  • An infant suffering from colic grows in the same way as those who do not

What are colic symptoms?

How do you know your baby is colicky? Infants often show some symptoms and signs at the same time every day, especially in the evening. Some of these are:

  • Colic follows the “rule of three”: your baby cries for three hours a day, three times a week, and for consecutive three weeks.
  • Your baby cries more in the later afternoon and evening.
  • Your infant seems to be crying without any reason, such as no hunger, no dirty diaper, no sickness, and no tiredness.
  • While crying, your baby closes their eyes, opens their mouth wider, holds their breath, and furrows their brow.
  • Your baby has more bowel activity and may spit up or pass gas.
  • Your baby’s sleeping and eating patterns are disturbed due to crying. For example, a baby may anxiously seek a nipple only to reject it when sucking has just began.

Cause of colic in babies:

However, there is no exact cause of colic in babies. Studies reveal that colic has no genetic relation to anything that happens during childbirth or pregnancy. It’s also not anyone’s fault.

Moreover, here are some theories regarding the possible causes of colic in babies:

Overstimulation of the senses:

Newborn babies have a built-in mechanism for tuning out sounds and sights around them, allowing them to eat and sleep without being disturbed by the environment. However, this mechanism usually ends at the end of the first month, which makes your baby more sensitive to the stimuli of the surrounding environment. Thus, with so many new sensations, your baby becomes overwhelmed and cries to release stress.

Immature digestive system:

It is difficult for an infant to digest food with their brand new gastrointestinal tract. Hence, food sometimes passes quickly and does not break down completely. This condition results in the formation of gas, which causes pain in the infant’s intestine. This situation results in crying.

Sensitivity or food allergy:

Some doctors believe that colic for babies is due to an allergy to the cow’s milk protein casein, which is present in infant formulas. It might also be due to the reaction of a specific food present in the mother’s diet for a breastfed baby. Either way, a food sensitivity or allergy can cause tummy pain in the baby, which results in colicky behavior.

Exposure to tobacco:

Research has found that women who smoke during or after pregnancy are more likely to have colic in babies. However, secondhand smoking also contributes to colicky behavior. It is thus recommended to abstain from tobacco use during pregnancy and the lactation period to avoid these health and behavior issues in infants.

Infant acid reflux:

Studies show that infant GERD (gastroesophageal reflux) may trigger episodes of colic behavior in infants. However, GERD in infants is due to the overdevelopment of the lower esophageal sphincter, which prevents the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. Thus, in this condition stomach acid comes into the throat of the baby, which causes irritation and pain. Hence, common symptoms of GERD in infants include poor eating, spitting up, and irritability after and during feeding.

How does colic differ from normal crying?

There is a clear difference between normal crying and colic crying. Doctors agree that colic crying is more intense, louder, and higher in pitch as compared to normal crying, sometimes like screaming. Hence, colic babies are usually inconsolable and cry throughout the day.

Diagnosis of colic:

There is no specific test to detect colic in babies. Hence, a doctor will do a physical examination and focus on the following things to diagnose colic:

  • Skin tone of your baby
  • Energy level
  • Bodyweight
  • Breathing
  • Body temperature

Colic remedies for babies:

Moreover, in addition to exhaustion and frustration, you may feel guilty and inadequate when all your efforts to calm your fussy baby end in vain. Do not worry: there are some simple, easy ways to reduce the effect of colic in your baby and offer a soothing effect.

If there is suspected overstimulation of senses in baby:

  • Respond:

Crying is the only way by which an infant can communicate with you. Hence, it is recommended to respond promptly to your infant’s cries. Studies found that a quick response to your baby’s cries will decrease their crying in the long-run.

  • Excise excitement:

Limit visitors and avoid exposing your newborn to new experiences in this stimulating surrounding, particularly in the evening and late afternoon. Clearly notice how your infant responds to new stimuli and try to avoid those which offend them.

  • Create calm:

Create a peaceful environment for your baby which makes them relax and reduce colicky behavior. Sing or speak in a soothing voice, dim the lights, and keep all distractions and noise to a minimum.

If there is a suspected gastrointestinal problem:

  • Apply light pressure on infant’s tummy:

Research found that some colicky babies feel relief when you apply pressure to their tummy, as the feeling of touch is soothing for both child and parent. You may try the ‘colic carry’ or place them face-down in your lap while gently patting or rubbing their back, which should help them calm.

  • Try burping your infant:

If your infant’s inconsolable, fussy behavior is due to gas, then burping might offer relief from pain. Hence, make sure you are effectively burping your kid.

  • Use anti-gas drops:

Research reveals that reducing gas can decrease crying and discomfort in a colicky baby. You should therefore ask your pediatrician for anti-gas drops made with simethicone, which is effective in breaking down the gas bubble and reducing colic symptoms in the baby.

  • Consider probiotics:

Probiotic drops can also help in relieving tummy pain in colic babies. Probiotic bacteria naturally grow in the intestine of the infant and maintain gut health. However, the research is limited, so consult your doctor about probiotic drops.

  • Ask about switching formulas:

If your baby is on formula, try formulas which do not contain cow milk. Studies have found that infants feeding on whey hydrolyzed formula show improve colicky symptoms. However, make sure to consult your doctor before switching formula.

  • Watch what you eat:

If your baby is getting breastfed, then focus on what you eat. Try to eliminate all those foods from your diet which create tummy problems for your baby, such as acidic citrus fruits, gas-producing cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage), and all allergens (soy, peanut, eggs, fish, dairy, and nuts).

Other calming remedies for colic in babies:

  • Swaddle:

Toss the blanket in your dryer. When it’s nice and warm, wrap your little one in it. This combination of warmth and security should help your baby calm and relax.

  • Get close to your baby:

Carrying or cuddling your infant not only gives them a feeling of protection and pleasure, but also help you in understating their needs. If you’re worried that too much holding can spoil your baby or make them clingy, don’t worry and put these fears aside. You are not spoiling your new one, so hold and cuddle them, which offers a soothing effect.

  • Try white noise:

White noises can also help in making your baby calm. The “hum” of the dryer and vacuum cleaner might create comfort for colic babies as it reminds them of their mother’s womb. Hence, these white voices can help your newborn fall asleep faster.

  • Play soothing music:

Studies have found that some crying babies respond to a lullaby, soft classical music, and quiet singing. Other babies like to enjoy the sounds of nature or the whir of a fan. The repeated sounds of “ahh” and “shh” can also help in drying the tears of your baby.

  • Get in motion:

You may also try swinging. Little ones feel comfortable with gentle movements, as they feel like they are present in the womb.

  • Get out of the house:

Sometimes just changing to an outdoor location magically changes the mood of your baby. Thus, put your baby in a carrier or stroller and go for a walk in the park. You can also strap them into the car seat for a drive.

  • Offer a pacifier:

Studies reveal that colicky babies want to eat all the time. This is because sucking offers a soothing effect, not because they’re hungry. Thus, if adequate feedings do not satisfy your baby, a pacifier might help.

In the bottom line:

Colic is no specific disease, so by following these simple, easy, and home-based remedies you can cope with colicky behavior in your baby. However, always consult your pediatrician before trying any type of herbal remedy or new formula.

References:

  1. What to expect. Colic in Babies: Signs, Causes, and Tips for Parents, <https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/health-and-safety/what-is-colic/> (2020, November 20,).
  2. Colic in Babies, <https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/what-is-colic#1>
  3. Gelfand, A. A. in Seminars in pediatric neurology. 79-82 (Elsevier).
  4. Illingworth, R. ‘Three Months’ Colic’. journal of archives od disease in childhood 29, 165 (1954).
  5. Campbell, J. Dietary treatment of infant colic: a double-blind study. Journal JR Coll Gen Pract 39, 11-14 (1989).

 

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