All babies cry, and in most cases, the crying is subdued once the baby’s needs are addressed. However, there are moments when a baby cries for hours a day and does so often in a week, for many weeks. This is what is usually referred to as colic, but what is colic in babies?
Understanding colic can often help parents distinguish it from cries for essential needs such as feeding and changing the diaper. It may also help you learn ways that work the best to soothe your baby. Read this post to understand colic in babies and ways to manage it effectively.
What Is Colic And How Common Is It?
Colic is the uncontrollable and frequent cries of otherwise healthy babies. It is defined as crying for more than three hours a day for at least three days a week, with these episodes occurring for more than three weeks. Most infants are colicky during the first six weeks of their lives. These cries mostly occur in the late afternoon or early evening and rarely indicate any sickness or hunger. Nearly one in every four babies experience colic, and it usually subsides within the third or fourth month (1).
What’s The Difference Between Colic And Normal Crying?
Normal and colic crying may seem similar, especially in newborns or for new parents. The notable difference is that normal crying is usually for a need, such as feeding, changing diapers, or cuddling. If the need is addressed, the baby calms down immediately. However, colic may continue even if the parent tries to address the need. Doctors also follow the rule of three; three hours of crying per day, at least three times a week, and for over three weeks is referred to as colic (2).
When Does Colic Start And End?
A baby might show a sudden onset of colic during the first three weeks of life. This fussiness may reach its extreme between the fourth and sixth weeks. It usually resolves on its own following the sixth week and subsides completely after the third or fourth month. Most babies seldom display colic after the age of six months (1).
What Are The Symptoms Of Colic?
Since colic is characterized by immense crying, there are chances for it to go unnoticed. The following symptoms may help you determine it better.
1. Signs that accompany crying: A baby with colic cries louder in a high-pitched voice. This inconsolable crying may be accompanied by curling their legs or clenching their fists, implying discomfort (3).
2. Other signs: There are often a few other signs that mark colic in babies (4).
- Grimacing, reddening, or frowning of the face
- Rumbling sound from the tummy
- Tightening of the stomach
- Passing gas or stool during or immediately after crying (this may be due to swallowing the gas while crying). The baby might stop crying after the passage of stools.
What Causes Colic?
The exact cause of colic is unknown, but there could be a few possible contributing factors (5).
- Immature nervous system: The baby’s hypersensitivity towards stimuli could cause colic. It could be because their nervous system is still getting used to the environment. Over time, as the nervous system develops, the colic nature subsides as the baby gets better at managing the stimuli received from the ambient environment (6).
- Acid reflux: Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) is a condition in which the stomach contents move upwards through the esophagus (7). This can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Gas inhalation: Babies tend to inhale a lot of gas through their mouths while consuming milk or crying. This gas ingestion may cause them discomfort, making them colicky.
- Allergies: It is believed that food allergies may cause colic in babies due to the uncomfortable symptoms they cause. For instance, a baby could be allergic to the cow’s milk protein present in the formula. In this case, the baby might cry a few hours after milk consumption (8).
- Caregiver’s stress: A baby may sense the primary caregiver’s stress and respond to it through uncontrolled crying.
How Is Colic Diagnosed?
There are no specific tests to diagnose colic other than studying the symptoms. You may be asked to brief the baby’s symptoms and medical history to the doctor. You may be asked about the crying episodes’ frequency, pitch, and timings. The baby’s dietary patterns and bowel movements would also be assessed (5). If GERD, allergies, or other infections are identified, the doctor may conduct additional tests if needed.
How Is Colic Treated?
Colic in babies subsides on its own within a few months. Although there is no treatment for colic, the following methods may help calm colicky babies (9).
- Dietary changes: If the colic is due to food allergies, it may help to change the diet. For bottle-fed infants, you may try switching to a different formula after doctor consultation. You may ask them about protein hydrolysate formulas as they are more easily digestible. If the infant is breastfed, the nursing mother could try a low-allergen diet. Note the changes in the baby if dietary modifications are effective.
- Probiotics: These are good bacteria that help maintain a healthy gut environment. The probiotic strain Lactobacillus reuteri could help reduce colic symptoms in a breastfed baby. Consult a pediatrician first before giving any type of probiotic to the baby.
A few over-the-counter medications are available that claim to treat colic. However, their efficacy and safety are not proven. Herbal supplements, such as gripe water, also fall under this category. Caution is advised against their intake without a doctor’s approval.
How To Soothe The Baby And Prevent Colic?
If the baby has colic, a few tricks may help calm them. Not all babies may respond to the same intervention. Therefore, do not hesitate to try various measures and see what works best to manage your baby’s colic.
- Massage the baby’s head gently. Alternatively, you can pat their chest or their back.
- Play white noise or some soft music when they start to cry. Humming a song or singing to them might also work.
- Burp your baby after a meal and in between feeding. You may also try burping them once they start crying.
- Practice slow-feeding if your baby is bottle-fed. Place the baby in a straight or semi-inclined position to prevent them from ingesting excess air and milk, causing discomfort and colic. You may also switch to slow-feed bottle nipples.
- Give them a warm bath. This may calm them and may even put them to sleep.
- Swaddle them in a warm blanket and cuddle to calm them down.
- Take them on a stroll to distract them. Try taking them to a calm and peaceful place, such as a garden. You may also take them on a drive with them safely strapped to a baby seat.
- Give them a pacifier as this nibbling may act as a distraction.
- Place them in a rocking cradle and gently rock them back and forth. You may also place toys within their line of sight to distract them.
How Can Parents Cope With A Colicky Baby?
It is natural to feel overwhelmed after seeing your baby distressed. Here are a few tips to keep yourself calm and relaxed while managing the baby’s colic.
- Request your family members to take care of your baby from time to time. During this time, take a nap or engage in a relaxing activity of your choice. It may help to go out on a walk.
- Meditate to reset your mind and bring down the stress levels. It may help to read a few positive affirmations. Know that colic is a short-term event, and this period shall pass too.
- Be patient and do not blame yourself. Colic does not mean you are a bad parent. Give it some time, and the baby will grow out of it.
- Consult a health professional on any overwhelming thoughts. Express your grief freely and restrain from hiding any thoughts. Join support groups or interact with other mothers to know how they managed their babies’ colic.
When Should You Call A Doctor?
You must consult your baby’s doctor in the following scenarios (2).
- The baby has colic after four months of age.
- Colic is accompanied by fever, vomiting, bloody stools, or diarrhea.
- You notice the baby becoming extremely weak and lethargic after colic episodes.
- The baby’s cries sound unusual.
- The baby has trouble breathing during colic episodes.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a good position to hold my colicky baby to make them feel better?
Holding a baby in an upright position may help prevent reflux and also make it easier to pass gas. Reflux and excess gas may cause colic in some babies. By holding your baby in an upright position, you are letting gravity do the work of keeping the food down while letting gas rise. Try keeping them upright for 15 minutes after feeding (10) (11).
2. Can I give my baby any medicines?
Many over-the-counter gas medicines, such as simethicone and dicyclomine, claim to reduce colic. However, these claims are not backed by much research. If your baby has been feeling colicky, you may ask your pediatrician before giving any medications.
Colic in babies usually lasts for a few weeks. Most babies get over colic once they are about four months old. However, the phase may cause significant stress to the parents. Remember that this moment shall pass too for your baby and you. Until then, be patient with your baby and understand them. Do not hesitate to seek help from family members and a health professional if you find yourself overwhelmed with your baby’s colic at any point.