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What is colic and the main cause?

What is colic and the main cause?

If you have a baby, you’ve probably heard the term “colic” before. What exactly is colic? What causes it? Let’s take a look.

Colic can be very frustrating for both babies and their parents. However, it is important to remember that colic is not a medical condition or diagnosis. It is simply a description of a symptom. In most cases, colic will resolve on its own without any treatment.

What is colic?

Colic, also known as infantile colic, is when an otherwise healthy baby cries excessively and inconsolably for no apparent reason. It’s not usually a sign of a serious medical condition. It can happen regardless of your baby’s sex or whether you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding your baby. It typically begins around 2 weeks of age and resolves by 4 months of age. The main symptom of colic is crying for more than 3 hours per day, more than 3 days per week, for more than 3 weeks in a row.

How do babies get colic?

The exact cause of colic is unknown. However, several possible causes might contribute to it. These include:

  • Gastrointestinal discomfort: Some experts believe that gastrointestinal discomforts like gas or indigestion may cause colic. This theory is supported by the fact that many colic babies seem relieved by passing gas or having a bowel movement
  • Immature nervous system: Another theory suggests that colic may be due to an immature nervous system. This means the baby’s brain is still learning to process all the new sensory information they are taking in. As a result, they may overreact to certain stimuli, such as light, sound, or touch, which can lead to crying episodes
  • Hunger: Some babies may cry because they are hungry. This is more likely to be the case if the baby is not gaining weight properly or if they are not getting enough breast milk or formula
  • Overstimulation: Too much stimulation can lead to crying episodes in some babies. This may include exposure to loud noises, bright lights, or too much movement
  • Pain: Some experts believe that colic may be caused by pain, such as from teething or an ear infection. However, this has not been proven definitively
  • Reflux: Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) occurs when stomach contents return to the oesophagus. This can cause heartburn and other symptoms in adults but often goes unnoticed in infants unless it leads to vomiting or poor weight gain. Some experts believe that GER may contribute to colic in some babies
  • Food allergies or sensitivity: Some experts believe that colic results from milk allergies or lactose intolerance. This is a reaction in the gut to the milk, usually the cow’s milk protein

Signs and Symptoms of Colic

The main sign of baby colic is excessive crying. This crying may be more intense than usual and not like normal crying. Baby cries may be accompanied by fussiness or irritability. Crying episodes often occur in the late afternoon or evening and last for several hours at a time.

Some babies with colic may clench their fists, arch their backs during feeding, or pull their legs up to their chests, turning away when offered a bottle or breast and excessive gas/burping.

These episodes can be frustrating and exhausting for both infants and parents. However, it is important to remember that colic is not dangerous and usually goes away after a few months.

How to soothe colic in babies?

There are a few things you can do to help soothe a colicky baby during a colic episode:

  • Try infant massage or warm bath: Gently massage your baby’s tummy in a clockwise direction with your fingertips or a warm bath to help relieve gas pain
  • Rock them gently: Try rocking your baby in a rocking chair or holding them close while you walk around the room
  • Swaddling: This technique entails wrapping the infant in lightweight blankets or fabric, usually on the chest, between both arms, and around the legs. When swaddled properly and snugly enough, it can help a fussy baby feel more secure and comfortable
  • Give them a pacifier: If your baby takes a pacifier, this can help calm them down during a crying episode
  • Go for a walk: Take your baby in their stroller or go for a drive with your baby in their car seat
  • Play white noise: White noise can help soothe and relax your crying baby. You can find white noise machines specifically designed for babies or download an app on your phone. Alternatively, use a vacuum cleaner or washing machine to provide white noise
  • Reduce stimulation: Keep the environment calm and avoid too much loud noise and harsh lighting

Other things you may hear about include:

  • Anti-colic drops and herbal and probiotic supplements. One helpful medication is simeticone, an anti-foaming agent that helps break down gas bubbles in the baby’s digestive system. This over-the-counter medication works quickly and can bring relief to both you and your little one
  • Changes to your diet if you’re breastfeeding. Consider changing your diet if you are breastfeeding, as eliminating dairy or caffeine may help reduce excessive fussiness or crying in the infant

How long does colic last in babies?

The average baby experiences colic for between three and four months. However, it can sometimes take up to 9 months for infant colic to resolve. However, every baby is unique, and these timelines may vary depending on the individual. Prolonged colicky symptoms may indicate a health problem if they go beyond the four months mark.

The sudden onset and loud cries associated with colic can be incredibly difficult for you and your little one. You may also notice that comforting measures don’t help ease the crying. Rest assured that this is a normal part of a baby’s development. However, speaking to your healthcare provider for medical advice is always advisable if you are worried.

Can breastfed babies get colic?

It may surprise some parents that breastfed babies can get colic like bottle-fed babies. Breastfeeding can provide a range of benefits over using formula when it comes to helping a baby avoid colic. Breastmilk is produced on-demand, so the baby’s digestion more easily handles it and gets the right mix of nutrients needed to stay healthy and happy.

Studies have also suggested that breastfeeding reduces the chances of a baby developing infantile crying or colic since some cow’s milk proteins may cause gastrointestinal distress in newborns. Therefore breastfeeding could be considered an option for colic prevention.

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Getting help with a crying baby

When parents or caregivers are struggling with a crying baby, it can be an extremely trying and exhausting experience. In those moments of distress, it is important to remember that you are never alone in parenting and there is help available. Call a friend or family member for support or take deep breaths until you feel calmer.

It’s important to care for yourself and your baby during this time. Where appropriate, parents may even seek the expertise of a medical professional for further relief. No parents should have to deal with these times on their own the demands of parenting can often be hard enough as it is.

Sources

Medical Disclaimer

NowPatient has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that all material is factually accurate, complete, and current. However, the knowledge and experience of a qualified healthcare professional should always be sought after instead of using the information on this page. Before taking any drug, you should always speak to your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider.

The information provided here about medications is subject to change and is not meant to include all uses, precautions, warnings, directions, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or negative effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a particular medication does not imply that the medication or medication combination is appropriate for all patients or for all possible purposes.

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