Colic may be defined as a baby that cries for no obvious reason but with full force for at least 3 hours a day on 3 or more days a week, for at least a week, in an infant who is otherwise well fed and healthy. It is estimated that 1 in 5 babies will suffer from colic. Colic occurs equally in breast and bottle fed babies and in both sexes and most babies will tend to grow out of it by around 4 to 6 months of age and suffer no lasting ill-effects. There doesn’t appear to be one conclusive cause of colic but there are contributory factors such as an immature central nervous system, immature gut and food allergies.
Colic can be one of the most distressing conditions for an otherwise healthy baby. The baby may have a high pitched cry, clenched fists and legs pulled up to their tummies. The baby may arch their back and stiffen and have a flushed face and skin and a grimacing, unhappy face. The baby may also have a swollen and rumbling tummy, and flatulence.
Treatment of colic
- There are some early interventions that can be tried to alleviate your baby’s symptoms of colic:
- If you are bottle feeding, ensure that the bottle you are using is not contributing to the problem, and that your baby is not 'gulping' air while feeding. There are specially designed anti-colic bottles available.
- Ensure that you have the correct teat flow size. Too larger size will allow the milk to come out too quickly, whereas, too smaller size may cause your baby to become frustrated when feeding, and gulp for the milk.
- Try sitting your baby a little more upright when feeding to reduce the amount of air that is swallowed when feeding. Also if your baby is in a 'scrunched-up' position this may cause air to become trapped.
- If you are breast feeding ensure that your baby is correctly positioned and is 'latched' on well to your breast. Encourage your baby to take a complete feed at each breast. You may like to access a local Breast Feeding Clinic to seek additional support.
- Try to keep yourself and your baby calm during the feed. Do not wait until your baby is frantically hungry and crying for food, as your baby is more likely to take in air with the feed.
- Adequate burping following the feed will help to prevent the build-up of abdominal gases.
- A warm bath and a gentle tummy massage may help to relax your baby and release the trapped air. When massaging use a clockwise motion, moving your hand from left to right across your baby’s abdomen. You can also try positioning your baby across your knees, with gentle pressure on your baby's tummy, and gently rubbing your baby's back.
- Gentle soothing may relax your baby but try to avoid over stimulation of the senses. The use of a dummy may help to calm your baby as may the use of ‘white’ noise such as the noise of a washing machine or hair dryer. Motion, such as the use of a baby sling, wheeling a pram or a drive in the car often has a calming effect.
- Cranial osteopathy may be considered. This is a gentle and non-invasive treatment that can be used to help treat babies with symptoms of colic.
- Some herbal drinks i.e. fennel, have a relaxing effect on the baby's intestine, however these are not usually recommended until the baby is at least 4 months of age.
- Swaddling may make your baby feel more secure and relaxed.
- Parents often feel anxious and stressed when dealing with a crying baby so it is important to have a break and if possible, to share the care of your baby with other family members.
If these early interventions do not help to resolve the symptoms of colic there are feeding changes that you can make but it is important that you do so with the guidance of either your GP or Health Visitor.
One of the causes of colic may be an intolerance to cow’s milk protein. If you are breast feeding your baby you can try eliminating dairy products from your diet for a 1 week trial. If this relieves the symptoms of colic in your baby then you can continue to exclude these foods from your diet until your baby is 3 months old. It is however important that you take calcium supplements in your diet. If the dairy exclusion is not successful then you may look at eliminating other trigger foods from your diet (caffeine, eggs, citrus fruits) with professional guidance.
If you are bottle feeding you may consider a change of formula milk, again with the guidance of a healthcare professional. Hydrolysed or partially hydrolysed whey based formula milks may be recommended. These are specialised formula milks where the protein in the milk has been broken down to make the milk more easily digested by the baby. Formula milks that contain prebiotics and have a reduce amount of lactose may also be recommended.
There are many over the counter colic remedies that you can use however it is advisable to discuss the use of these treatments with either your Health Visitor or Pharmacist.
Colic can be distressing for not only your baby but for you as a parent, so it is important that you feel guided and supported at this time. Your family and friends will be able to help you and your GP and Health Visitor will be able to offer you professional support.
CRY-SIS is a support group for families with excessively crying babies. There is a Helpline available everyday from 9am to 10pm - 08451 228 669 or a website cry-sis.org.uk