BY LINDA STEVENSON, PhD, RN, FNP-C, PEDIAQ SENIOR NURSE PRACTITIONER
Colic, the name makes parents of infants cringe. No one wants his or her baby to have colic. No one wants to see a baby so upset that nothing seems to console him or her. Colic starts around age 7 to 14 days, lasts over 3 to 4 hours a day for more than 3 days a week for over 3 weeks. How is this different from normal infant crying? On average infants cry for a total of 2 to 3 hours a day but with colic it is usually over 3 to 4 hours a day. The crying with colic is inconsolable; it is loud and high pitched. Parents can tell the difference with this cry very early on. Infants will also draw up their knees, clench their fists, grimace, and appear very distraught. When this first occurs it is a good idea to have your infant checked by the pediatrician to be sure there is no other underlying problem/medical issue.
What causes colic? No research has come up with one definite cause. There are multiple causes that contribute to colicky behavior. There are several research studies that show infants with colic have altered gastrointestinal microflora and this causes their intestines to not move as efficiently, nutrients are not absorbed as effectively, and there is a build-up of gas. A few studies have shown increased stress in the home, exposure to second- hand smoke and overstimulation can all contribute to colic. But there is no known single cause.
Let’s go over some common strategies that have been used for treating colic. One of the most effective treatments based on research has been supplementing the infants diet with probiotics. They have been shown to significantly decrease the number of episodes and the length of crying. They also help to decrease gas. Ask your pediatrician what brand they would recommend.
Swaddling and use of white noise are somewhat effective as is rhythmic activity such as rocking, swinging, and walking with your infant. And for some infants the car ride works like a charm.
Gripe water is recommended on some web sites, but usually not by physicians. This is a mixture of herbs and herb oils. Some infants do get relief from gas with this, but it is temporary. Always read the label and avoid products with alcohol or that are made outside the USA as they may contain herbs not safe for infants.
If your baby is formula fed your pediatrician may change the formula, as some infants with colic have been shown to have difficulty with milk based and sometimes soy based formulas. One of the researched baby bottles that have been found to decrease fussiness and crying in infants with colic is Dr. Brown’s Natural Flow bottle.
Breastfeeding should not be stopped if your infant has colic. Mothers can begin by eliminating foods such as cow’s milk products, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, cruciferous vegetables and chocolate from their diet. Do this for one week and see if there is a change in the crying and fussiness for your baby. Then slowly re-introduce the foods one at a time while watching for changes in your infant’s behavior. You can then avoid the offending foods.
Some parents find it helpful to keep a log of their baby’s crying, fussing, sleeping, and eating so they can see if there is a pattern, or if one activity is more helpful than another in calming the infant.
Parents who have an infant with colic can feel very frustrated, anxious, overall stressed, depressed, and even anger. You may be sleep deprived. You may even question your parenting skills. It is so important that you seek help from supportive, trustworthy family and friends, and have time away from your infant. This helps you stay refreshed and able to be a good parent. When you feel you can’t take any more crying, call for help.
Remember colic is time limited and you will have your sweet baby back usually by 3 months of age.