Colic 101: How Can I Help My Baby?
You’ve patiently waited months to meet your precious bundle of joy. Like most parents of a newborn you spend the first few months in a daze of sleep deprivation and pure love. However, it becomes apparent to you that your baby is crying a lot, more than you were expecting, and you’re unsure why or what to do to help them. You may be feeling worried, confused, exhausted, scared and over whelmed by your little one’s crying. Google tells you that your baby may be suffering from colic but with colic still not fully understood you may be confused where to start with helping your baby. This guide aims to simplify the underlying causes of colic and give practical advice as to where parents should begin resolving colic symptoms.
What Is Colic?
Infantile colic was defined first in 1954 by Paediatrician Dr Morris Wessel using the rule of three Inconsolable fussing/crying which occurs for more than three hours each day, for more than three days per week, for at least three weeks, with colic symptoms often worsening in the evening. However, more recently a new definition was proposed. The definition now given by the Rome III criteria describes colic as “an infant who is less than five months of age when symptoms start and stop; recurrent and prolonged periods of infant crying, fussing or irritability reported by caregivers that occur without any obvious cause and cannot be prevented or resolved by caregivers; no evidence of infant failure to thrive, fever or illness.”
Although these definitions differ slightly, both have the common theme of prolonged periods of crying which are not easily resolved, leaving parents feeling extremely helpless. As well as an inconsolable high pitched crying, colic is often accompanied by a flushed red face, pulling up the legs towards the chest, clenched fists and a bloated swollen stomach.
It is important to realise that colic is a symptom of something else rather than a condition itself. When a baby is crying, they are trying to communicate that something is wrong.
Will My Baby Just “Grow Out Of It”?
Yes and no. You may hear that ‘babies grow out of colic by the time they are four-five months old.’ However, this is completely dependant on what is causing your baby’s colic type symptoms. If your baby is suffering from an allergy then until they stop being exposed to the allergen the colic type crying will remain. Equally if your baby is experiencing colic symptoms due to an underdeveloped digestive system then as your baby matures their colic symptoms may subside. If you recognise that your baby is suffering from colic, the best thing you can do is to begin trying to work out the underlying cause rather than ‘waiting it out.’ Read below for a checklist of colic causing factors.
What Is Causing My Baby’s Colic?
In many cases colic is caused by an underlying factor. Use this checklist to rule out these causes one by one. If you believe your baby is suffering from allergy, intolerance or reflux, contact a medical professional who can offer you a diagnosis and treatment plan.
1) Hunger. This may seem like an obvious cause of crying, however it is frequently reported that colicky crying worsens in the evening, when babies often like to cluster feed. This hunger can sometimes be exacerbated by lower breast milk supply in the evenings and baby becomes overtired therefore not feeding as efficiently. This can also result in baby taking in more air during a feed. Always ensure that you respond to hunger cues quickly and don’t be worried to offer another feed even if your baby has already had their ‘bedtime feed’.
2) Allergy. If your baby is suffering a type of allergic reaction it is inevitable that they will experience some unpleasant symptoms resulting in baby communicating their discomfort through periods of crying. If the allergy goes undiagnosed and baby continues being exposed to the allergen, crying will become frequent and prolonged. For this reason it is therefore very
important that symptoms are looked as a whole rather than separately, such as skin rashes, wheezing and upset stomach or vomiting.
3) Intolerance. Babies can suffer from temporary lactose intolerance when the brush boarder of the gut becomes damaged. This stops the enzyme lactase breaking down the lactose ingested in milk (all milk contains lactose whether it is breast or formula) which then results in lactose fermenting in the gut, producing lots of excess gas. If your baby has suffered from gastroenteritis or a diarrhoea episode, this can cause enough damage to the gut brush boarder to cause lactose intolerance. Equally, if baby is suffering from an undiagnosed allergy they may also suffer diarrhoea episodes subsequently causing lactose intolerance.
4) Reflux/Silent Reflux. The symptoms of reflux are often easily identified by parents, however, babies suffering from silent reflux can be more tricky to diagnose. Silent reflux can cause discomfort and pain resulting in colic symptoms. To help you check this condition off your
colic checklist, other symptoms include wheezing, frequent hiccups or coughing, frequent ear infections, fighting feeds/seemingly uncomfortable during feeds.
5) Excess Wind. Excess wind can cause babies extreme abdominal pain. Babies can naturally be windy, or there may be something which is causing excess gas formation such as lactose intolerance or allergy. Identifying the cause of excess wind is the best way to resolve unwanted discomfort and pain.
Things to consider;
- Is baby taking in air during their feed?
- Is baby latching correctly during a feed? If latch is suboptimal could it be due to tongue tie? If you believe that your baby is not breastfeeding correctly, seek the advice of a lactation consultant who can review feeding technique.
- Are you pausing to wind baby throughout their feed?
- How is baby’s bottle being prepared? There are various anti colic bottles on the market that aim to reduce the amount of air that is taken in during a feed. However, ensuring that you make up the bottle in a particular way can make a huge difference to the air taken in during a feed. Rather than shaking a bottle to mix the powder together with the water (creating lots of air bubbles), swirl the bottle and then allow 10 minutes for it to sit so that air bubbles disperse. Also ensure that the teat is consistently filled with milk whilst feeding.
- Consider whether baby would be better on smaller, more frequent feeds.
6) Over Tiredness. When babies are young they work on very short awake windows. It may seem surprising that over tiredness can cause such distress however when a baby becomes overtired it causes a release of cortisol and adrenaline, the equivalent of the stress response. Always aim to have your baby ready to sleep in a sleep conducive environment by the time they
reach the end of their awake window.
7) Overstimulation. Babies can very easily become overstimulated by simple day to day environments. Loud noises, bright lights and lots of 1:1 interaction can overload their little brains causing them to become stressed (and upset!) Although lots of interaction is important for development, keeping your baby in a relaxed and calm environment (especially before sleep) where baby can “zone out” and “switch off” will help avoid overstimulation. Ways to help a baby switch off include; playing white noise, getting some fresh air, skin to skin contact and a dimly lit room.
8) Physical Discomfort. This may seem like a very obvious cause of upset, however some babies are much more sensitive to physical discomfort that others. Crying is the only way that babies can communicate that they are too hot, too cold, a label is digging into their neck, their outfit is irritating their skin or their nappy is on too tightly etc etc. Be sure to check that baby is completely comfortable.
Can My Baby Be Given Medication For Colic?
There are a number of medicines used to help with the symptoms of colic, however it is important to realise that not all medication will work for every baby. The medication on the market address specific underlying causes and therefore if your baby’s colic is caused by something else, the medication will not improve symptoms.
Colief: Lactose drops. These drops will only help babies who are suffering from lactose intolerance due to lack of the digestive enzyme lactase.
Infacol/Simeticone: Simeticone works by breaking down the surface tension within a liquid, reducing bubble formation or combining lots of smaller bubbles into a larger bubble of air which is easier to pass. This can be useful if a baby is suffering from excess trapped gas.
Gripe Water: Gripe water is a homeopathic remedy used to help treat colic. This liquid solution can contain various ingredients such as sodium bicarbonate, dill oil and a combination of other herbs depending on the brand used. It is claimed that gripe water has a soothing effect due to the dill oil and that the sodium bicarbonate helps to neutralise excess stomach acid. However, there is little evidence that gripe water works as a treatment for colic and the breakdown of sodium bicarbonate could in fact increase gas formation in the gut leading to worsened symptoms.
I have worked with many parents who have come to me at breaking point after three or four months of enduring hours of daily inconsolable crying. Due the term colic being used frequently but not well understood many parents think that they simply have to ride it out until their baby comes through the other side. This is absolutely not the case and I believe that there needs to be much more awareness around how families can deal with colic and the underlying causal factors.
If your baby is currently suffering from colicky symptoms and you’re unsure which way to turn, my inbox is always open for a safe non-judgemental chat, as well as the cry-sis helpline which supports families dealing with colic https://www.cry-sis.org.uk/.
(Tags: Colic, newborn, fourth trimester, allergy, baby, reflux)