Let's learn about Colic...
You bring home your beautiful newborn baby and for the first few weeks you’re amazed at how smoothly everything is going. Then one day, he erupts into ear-shattering cries with clenched fists, bunched up legs and a very unhappy red face. No matter what you try, you can’t comfort your baby, and that’s not all: this whole stressful routine seems to be repeated every night for what feels like forever. What on earth is going on!! One answer, COLIC!
What is Colic?
The reality is that all babies cry; it’s their only way of communicating their needs to their caregiver. And as parents, we’re biologically programmed to respond to these cries to meet our baby’s needs. However, for a baby with colic, the crying starts suddenly for no apparent reason and it seems to have no cure. Colic is not a disease but more a combination of confusing behaviours – no researcher has ever been able to identify the true cause of colic. It’s really just a term for problem crying in healthy babies — the problem being, there’s no solution to it besides the passing of time. And it’s very common, occurring in 1 in 5 babies. These fussy periods can go on for hours at a time, sometimes late into the night. Worst of all, try as you might, it’s extremely difficult to calm a colicky baby, which only compounds your own frustration, worry and exhaustion. Doctors usually diagnose colic based on the rule of three, which is that your baby’s crying lasts at least three hours at a stretch, occurs at least three days a week and persists for at least three weeks in a row. Of course, some babies with colic go way above that, wailing for many more hours, days and even weeks at a time.
When does Colic Start and End?
The good news is that colic doesn’t last forever. Most bouts start when your baby is about 2 to 3 weeks old (later in premature babies) and it usually peaks at around 6 weeks and then typically stops by 10 to 12 weeks of age. By 3 months most colicky babies seem to be miraculously cured. The colic may stop suddenly — or end gradually, with some good and some bad days, until they are all good. In the meantime, a little knowledge and a lot of patience will help you survive until the storm subsides.
Signs and Symptoms of Colic
How do you know for sure if your baby has colic? In addition to the rule of three, here are a few further colic signs and symptoms:
- Crying occurs at the same time every day (usually in the late afternoon or early evening, but it can vary)
- Crying seems to occur for no reason (not because baby has a dirty nappy or is hungry or tired)
- Baby may pull up his legs, clench his fists and generally move his legs and arms more
- He will often close his eyes or open them very wide, furrow his brow, even hold his breath briefly
- Bowel activity may increase, and he may pass wind or bring a feed back up
- Eating and sleeping are disrupted by the crying — baby frantically seeks a nipple or teat only to reject it once sucking has begun, or dozes for a few moments only to wake up screaming
What Causes Colic?
While the exact cause of colic is unknown, experts do know it’s not the result of genetics or anything that happened during pregnancy or childbirth. Nor is it any reflection on parenting skills and it’s also not anyone’s fault.
That said, there are some theories on possible causes of colic:
- Overstimulated senses. Newborns have a built-in mechanism for tuning out sights and sounds around them, which allows them to sleep and eat without being disturbed by their environment. Near the end of the first month after birth, mechanism disappears, leaving babies more sensitive to the stimuli in their surroundings. With so many new sensations coming at them, some infants become overwhelmed, often at the end of the day. To release that stress, they cry.
- An immature digestive system. Digesting food is a big task for a baby’s brand new gastrointestinal system. As a result, food may pass through too quickly and not break down completely, resulting in pain from gas in the intestines.
- Reflux. Research has found that reflux is sometimes a colic trigger. Reflux is often the result of an underdeveloped lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that keeps stomach acid from flowing back up into the throat and mouth, which can irritate the oesophagus. Symptoms include frequently bringing up a feed, poor feeding and irritability during and after feeds. The good news is, most babies outgrow reflux by age one.
In addition to frustration and exhaustion, you may experience feelings of inadequacy and guilt as you try to calm and soothe your fussy baby. These soothing strategies may help ease the strain until colic passes and the crying stops. Give each remedy a fair shot before you switch to another and don’t pull out too many tricks at one time.
- Respond. Crying is a baby’s only way of communicating his needs. But it’s also his only way of having any control at all over the new environment: He cries, you come running — powerful stuff when you’re otherwise completely powerless. In fact, studies show that responding promptly to your baby’s cries will reduce his crying in the long run.
- Reduce Visitors. Limit visitors and exposing your baby to new experiences in stimulating environments, particularly in the late afternoon and early evening. Watch how your baby responds to certain stimuli — and steer clear of any that seem to cause issues.
- Create calm. Trying to make his environment peaceful might help him relax. Dim the lights, speak or sing in soothing tones (or don’t speak at all) and keep other noise and distractions to a minimum.
- Abdominal pressure. Some colicky babies find relief when pressure is placed on the abdomen. So, place your baby face-down on your lap or upright with his tummy against your shoulder, or try the “colic carry,” where your little one lies face-down with his belly resting on your arm. Then gently rub or pat his back as you hold him.
- Try burping your baby. If your baby’s inconsolable fussing is due to wind, sometimes burping him will help relieve the pain. Trying different positions such as putting him on your shoulder, cycling his legs or laying over your lap to burp.
- Ask about colic drops. Studies show that reducing wind may reduce the discomfort (and crying). Ask your health visitor about trying colic drops.
- Watch what you eat. If you’re breastfeeding, talk to your health visitor about whether you should try temporarily eliminating any foods from your diet that can cause tummy troubles, such as cruciferous veggies (cabbage, cauliflower), acidic citrus fruits ,or allergenic foods (dairy, soy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish).
- Ask about switching formulas. For some formula-fed infants, switching the formula may help to alleviate the problem. Try switching to a palm oil free formula. Palm oil has been shown to cause colic like symptoms in babies and may well be the answer to all of your troubles!
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