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Infantile Colic

Does your baby cry and fuss for hours at a time? Do they often resist every effort you make to soothe and comfort them? It might be that your infant is suffering from colic. Carry on reading to learn more about the signs of colic and which remedies are best for treating it.

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In this article:

What is colic?

When does infantile colic begin and end?

Signs and symptoms of colic

What causes colic and colic crying

What are some of the best remedies for colic

Does gripe water work for colic

Coping with colic tips and hints

When is it time to call a doctor about your baby’s colic?

We understand how worrying long bouts of infant crying can be for a parent, especially if this is your first baby. We’ve been treating sore tummies all over the North Island, New Zealand for many years, and would like to share some of our remedies with you.


What is colic?

Babies cry for many different reasons: hunger, diaper changes, discomfort, and isolation are just some of the causes that can trigger a bout of crying in your infant. It’s the way baby can communicate its needs, and a parent is biologically programmed to respond to the noise and supply whatever it takes to soothe and comfort baby.

You might have an infant with colic if your baby cries after you have satisfied every one of its needs. If baby has been fed, burped, changed, and held, and still nothing seems to stop the crying, there is a strong possibility that they are suffering from infantile colic.

Colic is a generic name for any kind tummy-related discomfort felt by infants. Colic is neither a disease nor a diagnoses; it’s a word used to describe the one in five infants who can fuss and complain for long periods, often extending into the night time. Needless to say, if a parent has a colicky baby, it can lead to increased exhaustion, frustration, and worry when those bouts of crying extend over days, weeks, and months.

At Auckland City Hospital, doctors look for three criteria indicating infantile colic:

  • Baby cries for more than three hours a day, and resists pacifying

  • Baby crying occurs for a minimum of three days a week

  • Crying bouts persist for a minimum of three weeks in a row


When does infantile colic begin and end?

It is always a relief to parents when they hear that infantile colic doesn’t last that long. The usual duration for baby colic is from around 2 – 3 weeks old, reaching its peak around 6 weeks old, and then tapers off by 3 months of age. The onset of colic occurs later in premature babies.

Around the 3 months age mark, most babies prone to colic seem to outgrow it. This can happen gradually or suddenly. Parents surviving three months of a colicky baby deserve to be rewarded for their patience because it can be true to say that both parent and baby suffer when long bouts of crying caused by infantile colic happens.

A little bit of knowledge can help a parent understand the reason behind baby’s crying. This in turn, assists in calming and comforting a parent who undergoes any stress from these bouts of colic.


Signs and symptoms of colic

There are no clearly defined symptoms or terms to describe colic. The general consensus among paediatric staff at Auckland City Hospital it that colicky crying is louder, pitched at a higher frequency, and more intense. It resembles screaming more than normal infant crying. It’s virtually impossible to console a baby crying from colic, and the bouts can extend for up to three hours a day. Parents find the combination of crying plus the inconsolable aspect of baby’s discomfort sometimes extremely stressful.

Sometimes, colic crying can occur at certain times of the day or night, and sometimes at infrequent intervals.


What causes colic and colic crying?

Medical experts haven’t been able to reach an agreement on what is the exact cause of colic and colic crying. They do agree, however, that colic is not caused by genetics or is an inherited condition.  Nor is it anything connected to the birth or pregnancy the infant experienced (except in the case of smoking). Most importantly, colic and colic-related baby crying has nothing to do with the level of parenting skill within the home.

Auckland City Hospital paediatric staff and New Zealand paediatricians have some theories on what possibly causes colic:

1. Overstimulation. Newborns and infants under three months are born with the ability to tune out the irrelevant sights and sounds around them. This allows them to eat and sleep without being distracted by their environment. Around the end of the first month after birth, this ability disappears. Without a built-in mechanism to protect them from overstimulation, babies can become hypersensitive to stimuli and their surroundings. This barrage of new sensation can overwhelm baby, manifesting itself in long bouts of upset crying. It only ends when baby learns to filter out the sensory overload.

2. Immature digestive system. Your baby’s gastrointestinal tract is brand new. Colic may be caused from an infantile digestive system working out the function of food digesting. If the milk passes through too fast or not break down sufficiently, painful gas can build up along the digestive tract.


3. Infant acid reflux. Babies can suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease, just like adults. Infant GERD can trigger bouts of colic crying. Infant GERD can be caused by an underdeveloped lower oesophageal muscle (cardiac sphincter) in the digestive tract. This is the muscle that stops fluids flowing back up into the throat and mouth. Symptoms, besides crying, can include fussy eating habits, regurgitation, and post-feed irritability.

4. Food allergies or food sensitivity. Lactose intolerance is one explanation given for colic in formula-fed infants. Babies can also react to food eaten by breastfeeding mothers and passed on to baby via breastmilk.

5. Tobacco. Mothers who smoke during and after pregnancy and giving birth are more likely have babies with colic.

What are some of the best remedies for colic?

Remedies for suspected overstimulation:

  • Responding quickly to baby’s crying has been proven to reduce the loudness, length, duration of crying bouts, and frequency of infantile colic crying.

  • Limiting visitors and controlling baby’s environment in the evenings and late afternoon has been shown to reduce colic crying.

  • A calm and peaceful environment and routine, such as dim lighting, melodic music, and soft voices keeps colic bouts to a minimum.

Remedies for possible baby gastrointestinal issues:

  • Apply light, gentle pressure to baby’s tummy area. Place the palm of your warmed hand on baby’s abdominal area, as the power of touch is very soothing and the warmth helps heal any discomfort. You can also place baby in the prone position (lying on its tummy) on your lap, chest, or against your shoulder. Colic carrying is when you lay baby face-down on your arm and pat baby’s back lightly and gently. Never apply force.

  • Burping. When baby fusses and refuse to settle, it can mean trapped gas. Burp your infant after feeding and before getting them ready for sleep.

  • Ask your baby’s doctor for anti-gas drops. These can contain ingredients to promote digestive health and to give your baby’s brand new digestive system a helping hand. Paediatricians in New Zealand also prescribe probiotics.

  • Breastfeeding and watching what you eat. Breastfeeding mums need to watch what they ingest too. Avoid any vegetables that can cause gas, such as leafy green veg and pungent bulbs (cauliflower, cabbage, garlic, etc.). What causes gas in adults can cause gas in infants who drink breastmilk containing the compounds.

  • Think about switching formulas. Be sure to consult your doctor before trying another formula or cutting out foods from baby’s diet.

Calming remedies for baby’s with colic:

  • Babies are programmed to crave closeness, and that’s lucky for parents because they love giving it. Remember that it’s impossible to spoil a baby, so get in there and cuddle to your heart’s desire.

  • Swaddling in a blanket to match the season is also a good way to comfort a crying baby. It provides warmth and security, even when you lay baby down to go and do something else.

  • White noise and soothing music. White noise is available on every music streaming service now. Babies also love the sound of soft music, rhythmic patting on the back, and comforting vocal noises.

  • Babies find gentle rocking, gentle swaying, and gentle bouncing soothing.

  • Pacifiers. If it’s a choice between your baby crying for extended lengths of time or a pacifier, choose the pacifier. Your doctor can recommend the best brands to you.

  • Check your baby is adequately nourished. Many things can get in the way of an infant ingesting the perfect amount of nourishment it needs for growth and comfort. Your baby might be crying because it’s still hungry. Your doctor can recommend a breastfeeding nutritionist. They must check to see baby has the right swallowing and latching techniques, whether breastfeeding mothers have an adequate milk supply, and if baby’s mouth, tongue, and palate are functioning perfectly.

  • Get out and about with baby during the day. It can be very tempting to lie in bed all day when you’ve spent all night with a crying baby. But medical experts recommend you get out and about during the day, as this will help baby get into a better routine as well as experiencing fresh air and activity.

  • Safety first. If your baby starts to cry while in the car, don’t turn around to soothe it or check on it. Find a safe space to park and then attend to baby.


Does gripe water work for colic?

Gripe water has been around for centuries. Most infant colic cure gripe waters contain a touch of glucose, herbs, and some sodium bicarbonate (also found in adult stomach cures like Enos Salts and Alka Seltzer). Always consult with your doctor before administering an over the counter medicine to your baby.


Coping with colic tips and hints

Handling a screaming infant all day and night can take its toll on parents. It doesn’t matter whether this is your first child or a new addition to an already large family; colic crying can bring any parent to the edge of despair. Before booking a visit to your local Kiwi clinic or doctor, try some of the following tips for soothing baby’s with colic:

1. Sharing the load. If you have a partner, take it in shifts looking after baby. This can be broken into one night on and one night off for each of you, or divided into alternate crying bout duties. No one parent should be responsible for soothing baby.

2. If you feel like you’re about to break, take a break. Listening to crying non-stop for hours can be draining. If you feel like you’re about to snap, put crying baby down in its designated sleeping space, remembering to place baby on its side, and step away for quarter of an hour or so. Sometimes a cup of tea and a biscuit is just what you need to fortify yourself.

3. Try using earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones to tune out the volume of baby’s colic crying. Playing music also helps. Never wear them when you don’t have baby under constant observation.

4. Have someone you can talk to. If you need to reach out to someone about how upsetting you find your baby’s colic crying, remember that mental health professionals and the staff at your local New Zealand hospital want what’s best for you and baby. Call them for a chat at any time.

When is it time to call a doctor about your baby’s colic?

 If it sounds to your as though your baby’s screaming is too long or happening too frequently, you need to make an appointment with a paediatrician. They can examine your infant and rule out any potential harmful causes for it. Some of the things they will look at is your baby’s weight gain chart. If baby is in the lower weight percentile, the reason for the crying might be hunger, not colic.

It would be a good idea before your appointment to record the crying or note down the following:

  • Duration of crying bouts (length of time baby cries for)

  • Intensity of crying (volume)

  • Pattern (times when crying occurs)

  • Any accompanying symptoms

Doing this will help the doctor rule out many of the underlying medical conditions associated with inconsolable crying in infants. Doctors understand the incredible stresses and worry that come with handling a newborn baby, so don’t be afraid to ask for help for you and your baby at any time during the colic phase of an infant’s life.

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Photos by Unsplash

To summarise: 
Infantile colic is a condition that causes excessive crying, fussiness, and discomfort in infants. It is a common condition that affects up to 25% of infants. Symptoms of colic typically appear in the first few weeks of life and usually resolve by the time the infant is 4-5 months old.

The cause of colic is not well understood, but it is thought to be related to a combination of factors including gastrointestinal issues, feeding difficulties, and sensitivity to certain substances in the diet. Colic may also be related to the immaturity of the infant's digestive system or to sensitivity to certain substances in the environment such as tobacco smoke.

Colic can be distressing for both the infant and the caregiver. Although there is no cure for colic, there are several strategies that may help to alleviate the symptoms. These may include providing the infant with a pacifier, swaddling the infant, using white noise to help the infant relax, and using gentle rocking or swinging to soothe the infant. It is also important to ensure that the infant is being fed properly and to follow any recommendations provided by a healthcare professional.

Although colic is believed to be associated with symptoms of the gastrointestinal system, there is no specific formula that is the best for all babies with colic. Some babies with colic may benefit from a change in formula, while others may not.

Non-IgE-mediated cow's milk allergy is an allergic reaction to the proteins found in cow's milk. Symptoms of non-IgE-mediated cow's milk allergy may overlap with symptoms of colic and include vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain, and blood in the stool. These symptoms may occur hours or days after the child has consumed cow's milk.

If a cow's milk protein allergy is suspected, a trial of eliminating dairy products from mum's diet or switching to an hypoallergenic formula for 2-3 weeks may be considered by your health professional.

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