Infant colic is a very unwelcome guest in a new family. Still some 10-20% of all newborn babies will develop colic. While no one knows exactly what causes colic, there are some theories as well as treatments that can help you to deal with your colicky baby and many sleepless nights.
In this post, you’ll learn about causes, symptoms, remedies and other parents’ testimonies of infant colic.
Colic can be increadibly hard on the family, but in the middle of everything, remember that it does pass.
Infant Colic And How To Deal With It
What is colic?
When your baby is labeled as being colicky, it can be very stressful. It can help to understand exactly what having colic means. The name colic is given to infants who suffer with severe, unexplained crying spells on a daily basis. Many times this occurs early in the evening. So infant colic is not a medical condition. Or rather – it is not a condition that medicine has found a reason for. Hopefully, in the future, the doctors will find the reasons, so these poor babies and their parents can get more effective help.
The definition of colic is (usually) that a young baby cries for more than 3 hours more than 3 days per week and that all other reasons for the crying have been ruled out. In some places, the definition is that the baby cries for three hours every day. 10-20% of all infants in developed countries are diagnosed with colic and it is just as common among breastfed babies as formula fed. The start of colic is uncommon among babies that are younger than 2 weeks old and older than 3 months old. Colic is very uncommon in developing countries.
Possible causes of baby colic
While no one knows for sure what actually causes colic in infants, there are some theories on why it happens:
- One theory is that the baby’s intestines are somehow overactive, creating cramps and pain.
- Another theory is that it is mainly gas that creates the problem.
- There also sometimes seems to be a connection between mom consuming dairy products and colic in her infant (if she breastfeeds).
All these theories are based on the baby’s behavior during the crying spells. It looks very much as if the baby is in great pain.
However, recent research indicates that the babies’ brain reactions are more similar to anger than pain. Somehow I think I could endure better the thought of my baby being furious than in pain, even if it is very stressful anyway. As far as I know, however, no one has yet been able to explain why the babies would be angry.
A theory that relates to this, however, is that colicky babies are more sensitive to over stimulation than average babies, and hence need more peace and quiet.
The symptoms of infant colic are quite distinct. They will suffer from uncontrollable crying spells and may even pull their legs up into a fetal position as in an attempt to alleviate pain. You may also see the baby stiffen his or her legs rigidly while clenching their fists.
Your baby may turn red from crying and may at times show signs of relief when passing gas.
The signs of colic generally start at 2 to 3 weeks of age and last up to 3 to 6 months, usually 3-4 months, though. This will not affect how your baby grows or how he or she will develop.
Once you and your pediatrician have determined that your baby indeed has colic, you will want to have some sort of treatment plan to follow to see if you can alleviate some of the symptoms.
However, since the causes of infant colic are so poorly understood, the treatments available are not that great either. As a general rule, the doctor will do a series of tests to rule out any medical problems. For example, ear infections, urinary tract infections, acid reflux and cow’s milk intolerance can give similar symptoms.
There are a number of natural remedies for colic that you can try:
- You can feed your baby in an upright position to help eliminate too much air from being swallowed.
- You should also try to be sure that you feed your baby in a quiet, calm room.
- If you are breastfeeding, you may want to cut out spicy foods as well as dairy products as you could be passing it to your baby when your breastfeed and some colicky babies appear to get better when particularly lactose is completely excluded from mom’s diet. To learn more about what to eat while breastfeeding, click here.
- If the baby is formula fed, using a formula with no lactose in it may also help.
- If you smoke and breastfeed, stop. Nicotine is known to cause tummy pain in infants.
- Many babies suffering from infant colic react positively on baby massage.
- Another interesting book (which you can check out here at Amazon) is by a pediatrician who explains why acid reflux is often mistaken for infant colic and what you can do to help your baby.
- Another quite cute remedy is a baby tummy wrap (link to Amazon) that you can make warm. Remember how incredibly good it felt to put a warm wrap on your own tummy when the first contractions set in? A heated tummy wrap can be a great comfort for stomach pain, not just for babies with colic. Just don’t overheat it!
- If you ever bottle-feed your baby, try using a BornFree Active Flow baby bottle. They have been shown in research to reduce colic symptoms in diagnosed babies.
- Fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare) seed oil has also shown to reduce colic symptoms. A study (referenced below) showed a 45% reduction in infant colic symptoms and a 65% reduction of colic (as defined) in children receiving 5 to 20 ml of a 0.1% fennel seed oil emulsion up to four times per day for one week.
- When it comes to medicines, colic gripe water is found by many parents to help their babies to some extent.
- Some parents and also research studies support that chiropractic care of infants with colic can be effective.
There is also a “real” medicine that has proven effects on colic, but since it also has adverse side effects it is usually only given to children with particularly severe colic. Ask your pediatrician for advice.
Tips for parents
One of the first tips for parents is to try to remain as calm as possible and never take your frustrations out on your baby. Easier said than done maybe, but extremely important, of course.
If you just can’t take it anymore, it is better that you put your baby down some place safe and walk out of the room for a while, rather than risking to hurt your baby.
Keep in mind that babies like to be cuddled or swaddled, so wrap your baby up and try walking with him or her or rocking while you cuddle. Studies have also show that babies that are carried a lot tend to cry less. So put your baby is a baby wrap or carrier and try to continue with your day.
Also remember to take turns. It is extremely hard and stressful to take care of a newborn baby that just won’t settle no matter what you do. If you are a single parent, this is really the time to test your friends. Even just 10 minutes away from your crying child can help you cope with the situation.
- Examination of the effect of BornFree ActiveFlow baby bottles on infant colic.
- Alexandrovich I, Rakovitskaya O, Kolmo E, Sidorova T, Shushunov S. “The effect of fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare) seed oil emulsion in infantile colic: a randomized, placebo-controlled study.” Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Jul-Aug;9(4):58-61.
- Exposure to tobacco smoke and infant crying.
- The chiropractic care of infants with colic: a systematic review of the literature.
Parents’ tips and colicky stories
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