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Infants' colic explained - what is colic and how to tell if your baby has it

Infants’ Colic Explained

Infants’ Colic Explained

What is infants’ colic?

Infants’ colic is described as excessive crying of unknown cause in an otherwise healthy baby.

While crying and fussing is common in infants, especially in the first few months of life, regular bouts of inconsolable crying that occur mostly in the evenings is usually a sign of colic. Colic can be particularly frustrating for parents, as the crying happens for no apparent reason and it can be near impossible to calm the baby during one of these episodes.

Infants’ colic can start from as early as a few days old and is most common in babies from 2 – 16 weeks old.

Around one in three babies will experience colic.

How do I know if my baby has colic?

Colic tends to appear in the first two to four weeks of life and peaks at around six to eight weeks of age. Colic appears in babies who are healthy, eating and growing well and are their usual happy selves during the day until the late afternoon or early evening when the crying spells start.

There are some common signs to help you identify if your baby might have colic. Typically, babies with colic will display some or all of the following:

  • Long, loud and high-pitched bouts of screaming/crying
  • Crying lasts for over three hours, three or more days a week at around the same time each day
  • Baby cannot be consoled
  • Reddening of the face
  • Baby may pull its legs and arms in towards its belly, have clenched fists and an arched back
  • Frowning and grimacing
  • Loud tummy rumblings/bloating

Sometimes these symptoms can subside after the baby passes wind or has bowel movements.

If you’re not sure if your baby might have colic, take our online colic quiz here.

What causes colic

Despite significant research, the cause of infants’ colic remains unknown. There are a number of theories on what may be the cause of colic in infants, however some babies will experience colic despite no clear signs of the cause.

The Better Health Channel describes the four main theories as:

  • Maternal diet: Certain foods in the mother’s diet are thought to potentially cause symptoms of food allergy or intolerance in her breastfed baby. Some studies have found that particular foods eaten by the mother including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, chocolate, onions and cow’s milk can cause an attack of colic in her breastfed infant.
  • Maternal drug-taking: Caffeine and nicotine in breast milk have been linked to infant irritability due to the baby’s body not being able to efficiently get rid of these substances.
  • Feeling of fullness: Babies may overreact to the unfamiliar sensations of gas or fullness and may interpret these feelings as painful or alarming.
  • General immaturity: Babies may take a few months to adjust to life outside the womb.

How to treat colic

There is no miracle cure for infants’ colic, but there are a number of things you can try to help settle your baby and ease the discomfort caused by colic. Keep in mind that babies with colic are not unwell or in pain, and there is no ‘best’ way to go about soothing your baby; it’s important to try a range of methods to see what works best for you:

  • Check that your baby doesn’t need a feed or a nappy change or is not uncomfortable in some other way (i.e. too hot or too cold)
  • Swaddling and holding your baby close to you can be very soothing for babies
  • Gentle rocking and patting
  • Try giving a dummy; some babies are soothed by sucking
  • Dim the lights to create a relaxing atmosphere
  • If your baby is bottle-fed, try some different bottle types to see if they help your baby swallow less air
  • Try Infants’ Friend Oral Liquid – a formula specifically designed to ease the discomfort caused by colic in babies by relieving wind and flatulence while neutralizing excess acid in the stomach. This can help relieve a lot of discomfort and helps calm your baby and encourages peaceful sleep. You can read more about Infants’ Friend Oral Liquid here.

Colic episodes can be quite distressing for parents so it’s important to try to remain calm. If you feel yourself getting too stressed, angry or anxious during a crying spell, put your baby down safely in the cot and step out of the room for a few minutes to let yourself calm down.

If you are concerned, you should always seek advice from a health care professional to rule out any other causes of your baby’s discomfort.

Things to remember

  • Infants’ colic is frequent and intense crying of unknown cause, for more than three hours at a time
  • Colic appears in healthy babies and is not generally a cause for concern for your baby’s health
  • There is no known cause for infants’ colic, but common theories include immaturity of the bowel, food allergies and wind or gas
  • Infants’ Friend Oral Liquid is specifically designed to relieve the discomfort caused by colic.

References