WHAT IS COLIC?
Colic is defined as a behaviour rather than a medical condition. Paediatricians regard it as excessive and frequent, inconsolable crying in a baby who is otherwise in good health and feeding well. The episodes of crying can persist for several hours every day, for several weeks, and while it can occur at any time of the day, it occurs most often in the evening-time. Colic is most commonly experienced in babies from 2 weeks up to 4 months of age, which is when the symptoms of this distressing phase usually fade away. It is experienced by up to a third of young babies. When the baby cries, they may appear to be in pain, arching their back and pulling their knees up, and their cry may sound different or more piercing to their usual cry.
WHAT CAUSES COLIC?
The exact causes of colic have yet to be fully established despite a vast amount of research on the subject. Yet, it is commonly believed that the baby is experiencing pain in the abdomen and that pain could be a result of one or a combination of causes such as; trapped wind, constipation, a temporary intolerance to lactose (a sugar found in milk), a sensitivity to certain proteins, a change in hormone levels which control movements of the gut, underdeveloped intestinal tract or nervous system, spasm in the gut, or an abnormal imbalance of bacteria in the stomach. Colic affects both boys and girls and those who are breastfed and formula-fed equally. Some research has shown that smoking during pregnancy and the use of nicotine patches increases the chances of your baby developing colic.
CONDITIONS SOMETIMES MISTAKEN FOR COLIC
Occasionally other ailments and conditions can be overlooked and incorrectly attributed to colic. For this reason it is important to seek the opinion of your Doctor if you are at all in doubt of the cause of your baby’s crying. Your Doctor will be able to rule out other possible conditions. Some of the conditions most commonly mistaken for colic are:
- Twisted testicle
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux disorder referred to as GORD (where stomach acid rises up from the stomach into the oesophagus)
- Nappy rash
- Twist in the bowels
Make sure you always seek medical attention immediately if your baby’s cry becomes weak, they are unresponsive, floppy, have a rash, stiff neck or develop breathing difficulties.
SOLUTIONS FOR BABY
There are lots of solutions which may help to soothe your baby and possibly make the episodes shorter in duration and less stressful for baby (and parent!!). First of all, try to keep a record of the baby’s crying – the time of day it predominantly occurs and the duration of each episode. This information will be useful for your Doctor to help rule out possible problems and conditions. When you can anticipate that the baby may become colicky in the evening time, it is easier to be prepared and you and the baby will find it easier to cope. Try to keep noise levels down, although some ‘white’ noise has been considered helpful in trying to relax a colicky baby. Passing the baby from person to person may only increase the baby’s distress and is best avoided if possible.
Movement and physical touch.
When you sense an episode of crying is beginning, consider taking the baby for a car ride or placing the baby into a swinging chair. Babies who enjoy less physical contact tend to cry more, so try some gentle cuddles.
Baby yoga and massage
Before and after feeds, a very gentle massage can help to relax the baby and release tension. Lie the baby on their back on a soft and stable surface. Then, with the palm of your hand, gently sweep around their stomach in a clock-wise direction. Use the surface of your fingers, gently sweep around the belly-button, going in the same clock-wise direction. Peddling a baby’s legs can help release trapped wind and ease constipation. Hold their ankles and gently peddle clock-wise towards you. Another useful step is to hold their legs just below the knees and part slightly wider than the hips, and then push their knees up to either side of their chest. Then straighten the legs without using force and repeat the movement 4 times. Gentle pressure on their tummy can help relieve pain also.
Tips during feeding
Try to keep the baby upright during feeds in order to reduce the amount of trapped wind. Insure the teat is held at an angle so the baby is only sucking milk and not air through the teat. After every feed, always burp the baby. In young babies especially, it may be worthwhile to feed the baby on demand rather than sticking to a rigorous schedule. This will prevent the baby from being over-fed.
Developing a good sleep routine will stop your baby from becoming over-tired which can make colic worse. In very young babies, swaddling has been shown to ease their distress as they feel more secure.
There are a variety of gripe water products available such as Colic Calm. Gripe water is a herbal remedy containing chamomile, dill, fennel, ginger and sugar and has been hailed as a great remedy for colic and a variety of stomach ailments since the 1850’s. Before purchasing, always check the ingredients and follow the instructions carefully. Avoid products containing alcohol and bicarbonate (the latter can affect the pH levels in the baby’s stomach). Infacol has been specially formulated to ease griping pains and colic and doesn’t contain alcohol or sugar.
Consider changing formula
If you are using formula to feed your baby, change to a hypoallergenic brand which doesn’t contain cow’s milk. However always make sure to consult with your doctor first. There are two types of hypoallergenic milk which, studies have shown, have decreased colic symptoms in babies. EHF is extensively hydrolysed formula in which the proteins have been broken down so there is less chance of an allergic reaction.
If you are breastfeeding your baby, the food you eat can affect your baby’s digestion and there are some foods which may be best to avoid. Always seek the opinion of your GP or public health nurse before making dietary changes. Some foods, if avoided, which may ease your baby’s colic symptoms are: caffeine, dairy products, eggs, wheat, nuts, spices, garlic.
Coping with a colicky baby can become draining and frustrating and without the support of others it may become overwhelming. Always try to have the support of another adult during the first few weeks and months. If you don’t always have support seek help and advice from others who have been through a similar experience. Remember it is not your fault that the baby is crying. Even when you tried everything and nothing seems to help (which may happen), remember it is just a phase and the crying will not do your baby any harm.
Originally published in Mums and Tots Autumn issue, 2014.
(photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/brennaphotos/3699533117/”>brennaval</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>)