What is colic?
Colic is when your otherwise healthy 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. An estimated one in 10 infants experience colic.
Your baby’s constant crying can cause stress and anxiety because nothing seems to alleviate it. It’s important to remember that colic is only a temporary health condition that usually improves on its own. It’s not usually a sign of a serious medical condition.
You should call your baby’s pediatrician as soon as possible if colic symptoms are combined with other symptoms such as high fever or bloody stools.
Symptoms of colic
Your baby likely has colic if they cry for at least three hours a day and more than three days per week. The crying generally 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.
They may start to kick their legs or draw their legs up appearing as though they are trying to alleviate gas pain. Their belly may also seem swollen or firm while they are crying.
Causes of colic
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’s over a period of several weeks or a few days.
Possible colic triggers
There is no one known cause of colic. Some doctors believe certain things 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
One proposed way to treat and prevent colic is to hold your child as often as possible. Holding your infant when they aren’t fussy may reduce the amount of crying later in the day. Placing your baby in a swing while you do chores may also help.
Sometimes 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. You can also put on soothing music or some gentle background noise. A pacifier may be soothing as well.
Gas may be a trigger of colic in some babies, though this hasn’t been shown to be a proven cause. Softly rub your baby’s abdominal area and gently move their legs to encourage intestinal flow. Over-the-counter gas-relief medications may also help with the recommendation of your child’s pediatrician.
Holding your baby as upright as possible when you are feeding, or changing bottles or bottle nipples can help if you think your baby is swallowing too much air. You can potentially make some adjustments if you suspect diet is a factor in your baby’s symptoms. If you use formula to feed your baby, and you suspect your baby is sensitive to a particular protein in that formula, discuss this with your doctor. Your baby’s fussiness may be related to that rather than simply having colic.
Making some changes to your own diet if you breastfeed may help relieve symptoms of fussiness associated with feeding. Some breastfeeding mothers have found success by removing stimulants like caffeine and chocolate from their diet. Avoiding those foods while breastfeeding may also help.
When will colic end?
The intense crying might make it seem like your baby is going to be colicky forever. Infants usually outgrow colic by the time they are 3 or 4 months old according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. It’s important to stay in tune with your baby’s symptoms. If they go beyond the four-month mark, prolonged colicky symptoms may indicate a health problem.
When to seek medical help
Colic is usually not cause for concern. You should, however, consult your pediatrician immediately if your baby’s colic is combined with one or more of the following symptoms:
- a fever of over 100.4˚F (38˚C)
- projectile vomiting
- persistent diarrhea
- bloody stools
- mucus in the stool
- pale skin
- decreased appetite
Coping with your baby’s colic
Being a parent to a newborn is hard work. Many parents who try to cope with colic in a reasonable fashion tend to get stressed in the process. Remember 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, walk around the block, or take a nap.
Place your baby in the crib or swing for a few minutes while you take a break if you feel like you’re starting to lose your cool. Call for immediate help if you ever feel like you want to harm yourself or your baby.
Don’t be afraid of spoiling your child with constant cuddling. Babies need to be held, especially when they are going through colic.