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Baby Colic

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

No Parent Likes to Hear their Baby Cry

This article is to help you understand about baby colic.

Now just imagine for a moment, your baby crying for at least three hours a day, non stop. If you are a parent and reading this, you are probably curled into a fetal position with a box of hankies close at hand, but this is the reality that many face when their baby is colicky.

Colic is when an otherwise seemingly normal healthy baby, cries for three hours or more a day for at least three times a week. About twenty percent of all babies born get colic, and this condition doesn’t discriminate between boys and girls; both are affected equally. It has a higher chance of affecting children between the ages of two to four weeks of age, and lasts about three months.

Doctors are flabbergasted as to what causes this condition. They have some theories, but no hard evidence to prove it.

What Causes Baby Colic

In the past doctors believed it had to do with the baby’s digestive system. Although painful abdominal gas may play a role in colic, there is little evidence to suggest that it is due to only gastrointestinal problems.

A combination of a baby’s natural temperament and an immature nervous system may be a factor in colicky babies. Some babies may be more sensitive to their surrounding, and so they cry more. Because of their immature nervous system, these babies can’t stop crying once they have begun.

Some doctors believe that it could have something to do with the baby’s diet. Sometimes when a breastfeeding mother changes her diet, the baby’s colic may disappear.

It’s possible that colic could be caused by a milk allergy and a simple change is all that is needed.

The Symptoms of a Colicky Baby

The major symptom of a baby that has colic is the persistent or excessive “crying” that is distressing for the baby, the parents, and the doctor. The crying or colicky episode usually starts sharply and ends abruptly. The onset seems to be unrelated to what your baby was doing prior to the colicky episode. Your baby may have been happy or even sleeping when the attack occurs. The crying episodes start suddenly and may cluster in the evening time. The colicky crying is clearly delineated from when the baby is just crying.

Usually a baby with colic will cry more than three hours per day and more than three days a week. The crying sounds are more intense and sound more severe than normal crying. The colicky cry is louder, higher and changes pitch more often than a non-colicky cry. The crying sound makes you think the baby is in pain and actually screaming instead of crying. The cry has a more urgent, piercing, distressing sound than non-colicky cry.

Colicky babies manifest physical characteristics or body posturing with their crying episodes:

  • The baby’s face can be flushed.

  • The stomach can become tense and distended.

  • The feet are drawn up over the belly and the legs may extend straight out during a forceful cry.

  • The fingers on each hand can be tightly clenched.

  • Both arms are stiff and bent at the elbows.

  • The baby’s back can be arched.

Each of these physical signs usually occur in groups, and it is the grouping that is important and not the specific physical sign that is evidence during a colic distress.

Colicky babies are difficult or impossible to console no matter what you do as parents. During a colicky episode a baby may stop crying only to remain fussy.

What are the Treatments to Stop my Colicky Baby from Crying?

There is no tried and true method of curing colic, but there are several things a parent can try that may help. Colic is a benign condition that will resolve with time. Colic will no longer be a problem in 60 percent of babies at three months of age and 90 percent of babies by four months of age.

You should try a few of the following suggestions:

  • If the baby is bottle fed, use a bottle that keeps your baby from swallowing too much air.

  • Have your baby sit up during feedings.

  • Try changing the type of formula they drink, your baby may benefit from hypoallergenic formulas.

  • If the mother is breastfeeding, the mother can try changing her diet. Some foods to cut out would be coffee, alcohol, beans, onions, garlic, spicy foods, caffeine and melon.

  • Some babies are born lactose intolerant. Check to see whether this condition is prevalent in the rest of your family. If it is, your baby may also suffer from this intolerance. If they do, breastfeeding mothers can remove cow’s milk from their diets, so that the baby is better able to digest the mother’s milk.

  • Make sure your baby is burped regularly during feeding, to prevent gas build up.

  • Putting your baby in a baby swing. Sometimes the motion helps to settle them.

  • Taking him them for a walk.

  • Keeping them near a vibrating appliance, such as a vacuum, washer or dryer or other source of background noise.

  • Rubbing their backs or bellies.

  • Wrapping the baby snugly in a blanket or swaddle your baby.

  • Taking a warm shower with your baby. The warm water may soothe them enough that they stop crying, or go to sleep.

  • Go for a car ride.

  • Try playing soothing music. Some babies respond well to sounds.

While colic can be relatively harmless to your baby, it can be a stressful time for the parents. Lack of sleep may add to a parent’s irritability. If you find yourself getting hot under the collar, take a break. Get a friend or family member to watch your baby for a bit, and take a breather.

Remember, colic only lasts for about three months, after which you can stop shuddering at the thought of someone waking your baby from a much needed nap, and untangle yourself from the fetal position. Put away your tissues and enjoy the company of your new baby.

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