What causes colic? 7 possible conditions
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Colic is when your baby cries for three or more hours a day, three or more times a week, for at least three weeks. Symptoms usually appear during your baby’s first three to six weeks of life. According to KidsHealth.org, approximately 40 percent of infants experience colic (KidsHealth, 2011).
Your baby’s constant crying can cause stress and anxiety because nothing seems to alleviate it. However, it is important to remember that colic is only a temporary health condition that usually improves on its own. It is not usually a sign of a serious medical condition.
However, if colic symptoms are combined with other symptoms, such as a high fever or bloody stools, consult your baby’s pediatrician as soon as possible.
Your baby likely has colic if he or she cries for at least three hours a day and more than three days per week. Generally, the crying begins at the same time of day. Babies tend to be more colicky in the evenings as opposed to mornings and afternoons. The symptoms can start suddenly—your baby might be giggling one moment and then upset the next.
When your baby is trying to alleviate gas pain, he or she might start to kick his or her legs. The belly may also be swollen.
The cause of colic is unknown. The term was developed by Dr. Morris Wessel after he conducted a study on infant fussiness. Today, many pediatricians believe that every infant goes through colic at some point, whether it is over a period of several weeks or a few days.
Although there is no one cause of colic, some doctors believe triggers may increase the risk of colic symptoms in your baby. These potential triggers include:
- acid reflux (stomach acid flowing upward into the esophagus, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD)
- presence of cow’s milk proteins in breast milk
- poor burping skills
- overfeeding the baby
- premature birth
- smoking during pregnancy
- undeveloped nervous system
The American Pregnancy Association (APA) says the most effective way to treat and prevent colic is to hold your child as often as possible (APA, 2011). Holding your infant when he or she is not fussy will likely reduce the amount of crying later in the day. Placing your baby in a swing while you do chores may also help.
Sometimes, even taking a drive or strolling around the neighborhood can be soothing to your baby. Playing calming music or singing to your child may also help.
Gas seems to be a trigger of colic in some babies. To soothe your baby’s tummy, rub the abdominal area and gently move the baby’s legs to encourage intestinal flow. Over-the-counter simethicone (anti-gas) drops may also help, with your doctor’s consent.
If you suspect diet is a factor in your baby’s colic, you might consider making some adjustments. Switching formulas might help if your baby is sensitive to a particular protein. If you breastfeed, you may make some changes to your own diet to see if this helps relieve colic. For example, some have found success by removing stimulants like caffeine and chocolate from their diet. Your child may also be having an allergic reaction to dairy or nuts, so avoiding those foods when breastfeeding may also help.
Due to the intensity of the crying, it may seem like your baby is going to be colicky forever. However, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), infants usually outgrow colic by the time they are 4 months old (NIH, 2011). It is important to stay in tune with your baby’s symptoms if they go beyond the four-month mark because prolonged colicky symptoms may indicate a health problem.
While colic is usually not cause for concern, if the colic is combined with the following symptoms, consult your pediatrician immediately:
- a fever of over 100.4 degrees F
- projectile vomiting
- persistent diarrhea
- bloody stools
- pale skin
- decreased appetite
Being a parent to a newborn is hard work, and many parents who try to cope with colic can reasonably get stressed. It is important to take regular breaks as needed so you don’t lose your cool when dealing with your baby’s colic. Ask a friend or family member to watch your baby for you while you take a quick trip to the store or a walk around the block.
If you feel like you are starting to lose your cool, place your baby in the crib or swing for a few minutes while you take a break. Call for immediate help if you ever feel like you want to harm yourself or your baby. Also, never fear spoiling your child with constant cuddling—babies need to be held, especially when going through colic.
- Ben-Joseph, E. P. (2011, November). Your colicky baby. KidsHealth. Retrieved July 19, 2012, from http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/growing/colic.html
- Colic. (2011, November). American Pregnancy Association. Retrieved July 19, 2012, from http://www.americanpregnancy.org/firstyearoflife/colic.html
- GERD. (2012, April 13). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 21, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gerd/DS00967
- Kaneshiro, N. K. (2011, August 2). Colic and crying. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of HealthRetrieved July 19, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000978.htm
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