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A Guide To Colic And Excessive Crying in Babies

17 June 2019

All babies cry. For what they cannot communicate with language, babies cry for various reasons including tiredness, hunger, cold, heat, or because their diaper needs changing. However, if a baby cries persistently even after being cleaned, fed, and well cared for; it’s often referred to as colic.

Colic can be defined as a state of intense and inconsolable crying in a healthy baby for no apparent reason, for at least three hours a day, four or more days a week. This condition is frustrating for parents, but the good thing is that most babies usually outgrow it by the time they are 4-5 months old. In rare cases, colic can persist for up to 6 months.

Colic is a common condition that affects up to 30% of infants during the first few months after birth. Even though your baby may cry so much, colic is neither dangerous nor harmful. 

What Causes Colic?

Unfortunately, colic is a poorly understood condition with no clear cause. In most cases, colic is an indication that the child is sensitive to stimulation or cannot regulate his/her nervous system. As the child grows, the inability to control the nervous system – marked by constant and inconsolable crying – will automatically improve.

Some of the suspected contributing factors of colic include:

  • Overfeeding or underfeeding
  • Pain or discomfort from gas or indigestion
  • Overstimulation
  • Sensitivity to breast or formula milk
  • A digestive system that isn’t fully developed
  • An emotional reaction to frustration, fear, anxiety, and excitement
  • Abnormal gut hormones or over secretion of gut hormones such as gastrin.

Symptoms of Colic

How do you know for sure that your baby is colicky? The following symptoms will appear in an otherwise well-fed and healthy baby:

  • Intense crying: The crying starts abruptly and for no reason. The baby cries intensely and furiously, and there is not much that parents can do to comfort him/her. Sometimes, the infant’s face may become red and flushed. The crying episodes will mostly occur at almost the same time every day- in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Irregular sleeping patterns: Infants with colic may also experience periods of irregular sleep interrupted with episodes of intense crying.
  • Changed posture: The baby may have clenched fists, drawn up knees, arched back, and tensed abdominal muscles.

What Can Be Done About Colic?

The first thing you need to do when you suspect that your baby is colic is to have him/her checked by an experienced paediatrician to make sure that he/she is not suffering from any physiological problem.

This will reassure you as a parent and make it easier for you to try various recommended soothing strategies.  

Remember this, your baby will suffer if you are feeling tired and stressed from trying to do too much. If you get enough time to rest and take care of yourself, you will be in excellent shape to take care of your baby.

Paediatrician Tips on Soothing Crying Babies

One thing that you need to keep in mind while trying to soothe a baby with colic is that every baby is unique. Therefore, what might help soothe one infant may not work for another. The most critical thing to do is to find out what works best for you and your baby. 

Here are some tips on trying to soothe a crying baby:

  • Check to see if your baby needs something- feeding, diaper change, or relief from being too cold or too hot.
  • Offer the baby breast or formula milk if you think he/she is hungry or if the last feed was more than two hours ago.
  • Gently rock or carry your infant in a sling or baby carrier. Sometimes, movement and being close to the mother can help soothe a crying baby.
  • If you’re feeding and the baby starts to cry, switch to a different nipple or bottle- this may help reduce the amount of air that your baby swallows.
  • Provide a warm bath or put a warm towel on the baby’s stomach
  • Give your baby a pacifier
  • White noise, soft music, or gentle shushing noise can also help soothe some babies.
  • Turn off the lights and keep the surroundings quiet. Too much stimulation can trigger crying or make it worse.
  • Avoid overfeeding your baby. Wait for at least two hours from the start of one feeding to the next one.

Common Myths about Colic

Dealing with colicky babies can be quite challenging, and you can easily believe everything that you read about the condition. However, some information found online and in books about colic is untrue and will not help you so much. Here are some of the common myths about colic that you need to stop worrying about.

Your baby is in pain

Although babies with colic may cry furiously, the truth is that the condition does not cause pain. When they are crying, colicky infants experience no greater increase in the levels of cortisol (a physical indicator of pain) than those without colic.

You’re doing something wrong

Many parents tend to feel guilty and inadequate when they cannot seem to soothe their crying baby after long hours. You may ask yourself a lot of questions, but the truth is that there is little you can do about colic. Letting go of any guilt and frustration is critical since it will help you focus on finding the best way of soothing your colic baby.

Colic is caused by wind

Unfortunately, the causes of colic are unknown. There are different theories that try to explain the cause of colic, but it is not clear what causes the condition. Its cause is still a mystery which contributes to why there is no specific remedy.

Remedies That Probably Won’t Work with Colic

The following techniques may fail to relieve colic in babies: 

Infant formula

If you are bottle-feeding your baby, changing the type of formula milk that you use may not help. There is also no evidence that colic crying is caused by an allergy to a particular type of infant formula milk. You should also note that milk allergy is uncommon.   

Supplements and other treatments

Probiotic supplements and chiropractic treatment are unlikely to help your colic baby.

Changing the mother’s diet

There is no evidence that crying and fussing in babies is caused by an allergy to various substances that a mother eats and passes to the baby in the breast milk. Changing your diet while breastfeeding is not quite helpful unless your baby shows other symptoms other than fussing and crying, e.g. diarrhoea.

Conclusion

Infant colic refers to excessive crying and fussing in an otherwise healthy baby. If your infant cries regularly for at least three hours in a day, he/she may have colic. Fortunately, most babies tend to outgrow colic.

Please visit an experienced paediatrician if you suspect that your baby has colic. It is important for a doctor to exclude more serious medical causes as reasons for your baby’s excessive crying, though they are rare and usually associated with poor feeding, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation.

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