Understanding Colic

I'm sure as a new parent you have heard someone say to you that they think your baby has Colic due to periods of intense crying and you not being able to calm your baby. As a new parent you have most likely felt inadequate in being able to calm your baby and possibly even blame yourself for your baby's Colicky episodes but you couldn't be further from the truth. Your inexperience and your tension around baby at this time, is not causing your baby's pain and you are quite rightly allowed to feel distressed for you baby's discomfort. Take a breathe and read on to further understand from your baby's perspective what's going on here. What is Colic really & what does current evidence say?

Spoiler - "There is no magic treatment for all symptoms for all babies" - but lets better understand Colic first that are backed by current evidence. Not old opinions.

Stay with me....

Infantile colic was first described in 1954 by Dr Wessel, who defined colic as extreme crying for at least 3hrs per day, on at least 3 days a week, for 3 weeks. OK, well that's great that we know who discovered it and what the definition is but this discovery came with no understanding of the possible location of the pain or place of stress for the baby. In a more recent definition, ROME III criteria which is based of gastro-intestinal conditions, says that that infantile colic is the "spasmodic contraction of the smooth muscles of the intestine". We as parents have known this is the possible location for our baby's pain but what else impacts on the intestines and contributes to this crying/unsettled behaviour?

Colic or Colicky Behaviour is a symptom not a diagnosis of a condition. To manage Colic is to first understand the cause of the symptom. When I talk to parents about "colicky behaviour" they explain intense and unexplained crying, reddened faced baby, baby's knees pulled up, baby back arching and fists clinched. No amount of picking up, rocking, shushing, patting and/or feeding, feels like it does anything to reduce the crying and ultimately for baby to settle to sleep. Sound familiar? Research indicates that around 30% of all infants from 2wks up to 3-4mths of age have colicky behaviour episodes, more often in the later part of the day/evening and are more common in households where there is a smoke and/or the baby is formula fed but less common in exclusively breastfed babies (this leads me to think that for a BF baby the symptom is less likely to be directly intestinal - more on that later). So what are some of the causes of Colic that research has highlighted?

Causes - I will cover most of these as briefly as I can. But you can contact me at anytime for further support with Colic.

  • Trapped Gas

  • Overfeeding via Bottle

  • Microbial Dysbiosis

  • Allergy

  • Heightened Stress Response Or/&

  • Lactose Overload - or combination of some or many of these.

Trapped Gas: As humans we all have trapped gas from time to time and it's the same for babies. The majority of babies can take care of bringing up their own wind in the form of burps without much input form us ie change of position to caregivers shoulder from feeding position. If the trapped gas appears to be further down in the baby's intestines or into the tummy area, than this can be harder to help release. Getting baby to be calm and more relaxed will be the first practical thing you can do to support baby with this. See practical tips below.

Please don't spend more than 5 mins burping your baby especially in the night as this will further disrupt sleep. Try it - feed and let your baby go back to sleep when they fall asleep after a feed and see if it makes any difference to how the baby settles/sleeps compared to you usual burping routine.

Practical Tip: Check your baby's latch at either the breast and/or the bottle

The first thing I would ask is where is the air getting into the stomach and at what times? As your baby grows, their latch can change, so check that there is not clicking, slurping and/or smacking noises when baby is feeding. Same for the bottle and check that you have the right flow teat for your baby's age.

Practical Tip: Colic Medicines

Avoid if you can. There is no backing from research that these actually work other than the plasebo effect it has on us, in that it makes us feel like we are practically doing something to help. Also many of the potions ie "Gripe Water" have Sodium Bicarb in them and when that hits the stomach acid, it actually creates more air bubbles. Also by adding something foreign into an already immature gut, will only add another thing your baby's system needs to process.