What is colic?
Colic is a term used to describe a painful condition affecting young infants in the first months of life, thought to be due to spasm of the bowel and/or trapped intestinal gas or wind. It is typically worse in the late afternoon or early evening, and will usually start anywhere from a few minutes to about an hour after a feed.
What are the symptoms for colic?
The classic picture is as follows. The baby becomes unsettled and fussy, and may start sucking frantically on his fists. When put to the breast or bottle he may feed fervently and calm momentarily, but then his abdomen tightens, his face reddens and he draws his legs up. He begins to cry in a very distressed manner, really screaming at full force. No matter what his parent does, he cannot be consoled. The attack will usually last for four or five minutes and then gradually settle. The baby relaxes and seems to be going off to sleep. But then five minutes later the next spasm starts, and the cycle goes on. It may take from one to several hours for the episode to pass. Despite the fact that the baby is normally thriving, this pattern continues day after day.
If this picture is all too familiar to you, chances are your baby suffers with colic. Rest assured, it usually resolves spontaneously by the age of three months, although occasionally may persist until six months. Obviously, you may find this cold comfort when you are feeling totally frazzled and sleep deprived now. There are several measures described below that you should find successful.
What causes colic?
The exact underlying cause of colic is unknown, but there are many theories. Immaturity of the gut or nervous system, or a hormone imbalance are some possibilities, and seem to explain why baby grows out of the problem. For breastfed babies, it may be that they are getting too much of the lactose-rich foremilk and not enough of the fat-rich hindmilk. This can occur if the baby is switched too quickly from the first to the second breast, and so receives two lots of foremilk and not much hindmilk. The excess lactose ferments in the large bowel producing wind and colic, and the low-fat content means that the baby gets hungry more quickly requiring more frequent feeding. The answer is simple. Let the baby feed as long as he wants on one breast, until he obviously slows or stops his sucking, before offering the second breast.
Another theory is that colic may be related to cow’s milk and/or gluten intolerance. Breastfeeding mothers can consider a trial of a dairy-free and gluten free diet, whilst bottle-fed babies could be trialled on a goat milk formula. Other foods that may upset babies when consumed by breastfeeding mothers are garlic, spices, eggs, nuts, broccoli and caffeine (found in tea, coffee, chocolate and cola drinks).
Treatment and general recommendations
To soothe and comfort a crying colicky baby you may need to try a number of different methods in combination until you find which works best for you and your baby.
Here are a variety of suggestions:
• Sucking, rather than feeding, can be very relaxing for a colicky baby. Try letting the baby suckle at your empty breast, or from a bottle with a small amount of boiled water, or a dummy.
• Cuddle and rock or walk with your baby.
• Gentle rhythmic movement in a bouncinette or pram may be useful.
• Position your baby so that there is some gentle pressure over his abdomen. For example, holding him with his tummy over your arm, or lying him across your knee, or sitting him in your lap so that he is bending over in the middle.
• Firm rhythmical patting can be combined with the above.
• Wrap the baby firmly in a light rug or sheet.
• Some babies find being carried in a baby sling very comforting. This leaves your hands free to get on with other things. If baby falls asleep, many slings allow you to gently lower him into his cot without waking.
• Try raising the head of the bassinet or cot.
• A warm relaxation bath can soothe a colicky baby.
• Gentle massage of his abdomen or performing a bicycling action with his legs can help relieve wind.
• Music or noise from a washing machine or vacuum cleaner may settle him!
• Peppermint or dill tea 10 to 20 mL three times daily as required is helpful for wind.
• Chamomile tea 20 mL has a soothing sedative effect.
• Homoeopathic magnesium phosphate five drops every two hours in boiled water is also beneficial.
Orthodox Medical Treatment
“Infacol Wind Drops” or “Donnalix Infant Drops” may be effective in some babies but have a limited place.