Infantile Colic

Colic is a prevalent and vexing state in which infants experience bouts of excessive and unconsolable weeping for extended periods.

What is colic? 

Colic refers to a common and frustrating condition experienced by many babies, where they cry inconsolably and frequently for extended periods. This condition affects up to a quarter of all babies in their initial weeks of life, leaving parents feeling helpless and drained. Nevertheless, parents should be aware that their baby is not unwell and that colic does eventually cease.

What causes colic? 

The causes of infantile colic are not yet fully understood and are likely multifactorial. Some scientists hypothesize that issues with gut motility and an imbalance in the baby’s developing gastrointestinal tract microbiota may be involved. Other researchers suggest that oversensitivity to the new stimuli encountered by a newborn, such as sounds and sights, may also play a role.

Gut motility – The key to a healthy gut 

Gut motility is a phrase that refers to the muscle contractions responsible for breaking down and moving food from the stomach to the intestines and bowels. In essence, it describes how a child’s digestive system functions. If a child’s gut motility is not yet fully developed or disrupted for some reason, this can lead to pain, excessive gas, and frustrating outcomes like colic, constipation, or regurgitation.

The Role of Gut Bacteria in Colic

Increasing evidence suggests that gut bacteria may play a role in the development of colic in infants. Clinical research has demonstrated that babies with colic exhibit lower levels of beneficial bacteria and higher levels of harmful bacteria in their digestive systems, along with elevated inflammation. These factors can lead to various digestive issues, including colic.

Several studies indicate that a particular type of probiotics can reduce crying time, particularly in breastfed babies.

Does My Baby Have Colic? 

A baby is likely experiencing colic if they are less than five months old and have recurrent and prolonged periods of crying, fussiness, or irritability that seem unexplained and cannot be alleviated or comforted by caregivers. This crying typically happens around the same time every day and often starts in the afternoon or evening. Colic usually reaches its peak at approximately six weeks of age and resolves by four months.

Additional symptoms that appear during crying spells may include:

  • Excessive gas
  • A red face
  • Clenched fists
  • Pulling legs up towards the chest
  • Crying that sounds more intense or anguished than usual.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Although babies with colic are generally healthy and do not require medical attention, there are some conditions that may cause symptoms similar to colic. These may include acid reflux, allergies to milk or other proteins, or a more severe illness or injury. Therefore, it is important to consult a pediatrician if:

  • Your baby has a fever
  • Your baby vomits frequently
  • Your baby appears lethargic and refuses to eat
  • Your baby does not gain weight adequately
  • The symptoms persist beyond four months of age

It is important for parents to take care of themselves as well as their baby. Taking care of a colicky infant can be extremely distressing and tiring, especially for first-time parents. However, it is important to remember that parents are not responsible for causing colic, and that the condition will eventually pass. Parents who are caring for a colicky baby may be more prone to developing anxiety and postnatal depression, and may be at risk of shaking or harming the baby. Parents should not hesitate to seek assistance from friends, family, and neighbors if they require a break, and should seek advice and support from healthcare professionals.

Alternative ways to calm babies with colic

Although some colicky babies cannot be comforted easily, parents can attempt various interventions, such as:

  • Holding, swaying, or softly bouncing the baby
  • Massaging the belly with gentle, clockwise strokes to release gas
  • Taking the baby for a stroll in a pram or car
  • Using a white noise machine
  • Using angled baby bottles to decrease air swallowing and gas
  • If breastfeeding, removing dairy, soy, and other allergens from the mother’s diet
  • Preventing any exposure to tobacco

Key facts regarding colic

  • One in four babies may be diagnosed with colic
  • Colic usually stops around the fourth month.
  • A colicky baby is not unhealthy.
  • The crying is typically more intense in the evening, but it can happen at other times as well.
  • The cause of colic is complex and not entirely understood.
  • Colicky infants may have a lower number of certain healthy gut bacteria.
  • Colic usually reaches its peak at six to eight weeks of age