What is colic?
Infantile Colic, or colic as it is more commonly called, is characterized by uncontrollable crying in a baby that has no known cause. The condition is generally harmless. However, it can be very distressing for parents or careers. About one to two in every 10 babies get colic.
Your baby may have colic if he or she cries excessively over several days. Although this crying can occur at any time, it usually gets worse in the late afternoon and evening. Colic usually appears in the first few weeks after birth. It can last for any length of time but usually lasts for three to four months.
Although colic isn’t thought to be due to pain, your baby may look uncomfortable or appear to be in pain. Babies may lift their head, draw their legs up to their tummy, become red in the face and pass gas. Colic is not a serious condition. Research shows that babies with colic continue to eat and gain weight normally, despite the crying. If your baby doesn’t, you should see your Pediatrician or contact our office.
The main problem with the condition is the stress and anxiety it creates within the home. You may find it difficult to cope with the constant crying, so it’s important for you to have support and to take a break now and then.
The cause of colic is not exactly known. In the past it was thought to be related to the digestive system. Painful gas may contribute to colic, but there is little evidence to prove colic is linked to digestive problems. Lactose intolerance has also been identified as a possible factor, but available evidence is limited.
Another possible cause may be your baby’s temperament. This may make your baby highly sensitive to the environment, and he or she may react to normal stimulation or changes by crying. If you smoke, this may also be a factor.
Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) is associated with excessive crying in some babies. GERD symptoms include being sick and difficulty sucking; these are not usual symptoms in babies with colic.
You may be worried about your baby’s crying and may want to get advice from your Pediatrician or contact our office to make sure there is not a serious problem.
Before visiting your Pediatrician or contacting our office, you should think about what other things may be causing your baby to cry. These could include:
- lack of contact – some babies want to be cuddled all the time
- startling – due to jerky movements or sudden noise for example
- temperature – your baby may be too hot or too cold
- pain – there may be an identifiable source of pain, like a nappy rash
If none of these are causing your baby to cry, your Pediatrician may need to see and examine your baby. Sometimes knowing when your baby cries, eats, sleeps and their pattern of bowel movements, may provide a clue to the cause of the crying.
There is no single medicine or proven cure for colic, but there are measures that may help. Different babies are comforted in different ways, and you may need to try a few methods to see what works.
You may find one or more of the following techniques helpful in soothing your baby’s cries.
- Carry your baby in a front sling or back pack.
- Keep your baby moving in a baby swing.
- Try to soothe your baby with continuous noise or vibrations from household appliances like the dishwasher, vacuum cleaner or washer-dryer.
- Take your baby for a car ride or a walk outside.
- Give your baby a dummy to suck on.
- Bathe your baby – the warm water may be comforting.
There are some dietary changes that may help some babies, but none are proven to treat colic.
It’s thought that some babies may not be able to digest proteins called lactose very well, but this improves as they get older. If you put breast milk into a bottle or use formula feed containing cow’s milk, you could try adding lactase before feeds to see if this helps. This can be purchased from a pharmacist. Lactase breaks down lactose in the body and can improve symptoms in some babies in the first few months. Some mothers may find using low lactose milk formula useful. If, after a one week trial, either method helps your baby, you can carry on feeding them in this way until they are 12 weeks old. The baby should then be slowly weaned onto normal milk over a period of one week. There are other methods that may help if a low or non-lactose diet doesn’t work for your baby. If you are breastfeeding, you could stop eating dairy products, or try feeding your baby a hypo-allergenic formula containing whey or casein hydrolysate which your baby shouldn’t be allergic to. If eliminating dairy from your diet or hypo-allergenic formulas feeds work, you should talk to your pediatrician or contact our office about a referral to a specialist as your child may have an intolerance to cow’s milk. However, there is limited evidence that non-dairy breast milk and hypo-allergenic formulas are effective at reducing colic.
There is limited evidence that Simethicone (Mylicon), improve symptoms. This treatment is used to relieve gas. You may also consider trying colic drops or gripe water, which are available without a prescription.
Aromatherapy and tummy massage using lavender oil may help relieve the symptoms of colic. Always ask the advice of a qualified practitioner as some herbal remedies can be harmful to babies.
Help and support
Caring for a baby with colic can be very stressful, frustrating and challenging for any parent or career, particularly if it’s your first child. If you feel overwhelmed, you should take a break if at all possible. Ask a partner or friend to take over for a while, even for just an hour or two. Frustration can lead to dangerous behavior.
Whatever happens, DO NOT SHAKE YOUR BABY.