All babies cry, but if your baby seems to cry more than the average baby, there may be an underlying problem. Babies who cry more than 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week for a period of 3 weeks could have colic. Colic babies are typically healthy and the colic usually resolves itself over time. Colic is not harmful to your baby, but it can be a difficult period to go through for both babies and parents.
Colic is the term used to describe periods of crying that occur in a typical, healthy, well-fed baby. These periods of crying must last for several hours a day over a period of many weeks. Approximately 25 percent of all infants are diagnosed as colic. Typically, a colic baby will begin symptoms at around 3 to 6 weeks after birth. The colic will likely last for weeks or months, but should end by the time the baby is 4 months old. If the crying periods are still present after the baby reaches 4 months of age, an underlying medical condition may be the cause.
Crying is normal for infants. If your baby appears to be fussy and cries often, it does not mean that he or she has colic. Signs of colic in an otherwise well-fed, healthy infant include:
- Crying jags that become predictable. Typically, an infant with colic will cry at roughly the same time each day. The crying tends to begin suddenly and can last for a few minutes or for a few hours. The source of the crying cannot be determined, but your infant may have a bowel movement or seem gassy towards the end of the crying period.
- The child is inconsolable. Generally, an infant with colic will have intense, high-pitched episodes of crying during which he or she is inconsolable. The infants face may become flushed during the episode and seemingly nothing will calm the baby down.
- The infant will display physical symptoms such as clenched fists, curled up legs and stiffened stomach muscles.
Unfortunately, there is no known cause for colic. Researchers have speculated on many possible causes, but no single theory has been deemed the true cause. Possible causes for colic include:
- Cow’s milk intolerance in bottle-fed babies
- Intolerance to certain proteins in formula or breast milk
- Reaction to the mother’s diet in breast-fed babies
- A young digestive system
- Maternal anxiety
- Changes in the way the baby is fed
- A change in the way the baby is comforted
- Undiagnosed GERD
Many theories have been proposed as to what factors increase a newborns risk for developing colic. However, only one has been proven. A child is at risk for developing colic if the mother is a smoker. A child born to a mother who smokes during pregnancy or after birth is twice as likely to have a colic baby.
Your baby’s doctor will likely begin by asking you a series of questions to determine the pattern and incidence of your child’s crying. In addition, a physical exam will be performed in order to assess the infants overall health. If no other health problem is suspected, your child will likely be diagnosed as having colic. Additional tests may be performed if an underlying medical condition, such as a hernia or intestinal blockage is suspected. Those tests include:
- Lab tests
- Other diagnostic procedures
Colic typically resolves itself overtime. No medication or over the counter treatment should be given without first speaking to your child’s doctor. There are two options for treating colic, both of which may or may not help and need further research to evaluate their effectiveness. These treatments include:
- Gas relief medications
- Probiotics, to promote “good” bacteria in the digestive tract
While there may not be a surefire treatment for colic, there may be things that you can do at home to comfort your crying baby. Potentially effective home remedies include:
- Feeding the baby in an upright position
- Walking around with the baby
- Rocking the baby in a rocking chair
- Burping your baby after all feedings
- Giving your baby a pacifier
- Swaddling your baby in a light blanket, only while you are present
- Increasing white or background noise
- Giving baby a warm bath
- Rubbing your baby’s back
- Changing in baby’s diet
- Singing to your baby
A doctor should evaluate any child that has unexplained crying. If you begin to notice any new symptoms or symptoms that are not that of typical colic, contact your doctor immediately. Having a colic baby can be extremely stressful, so be sure to give yourself adequate breaks and some time away from the crying. Whenever possible, allow another person to care for your baby for even just a few minutes so that you can relax and regroup. Be sure to share your feelings, remain positive and seek out support when it is needed.
Though a colicky bay can be difficult to deal with, it is important to remember that colic will not likely cause any future complications for your child and he or she will grow out of it overtime. Be sure to call your doctor if there are any sudden changes in your infant’s behavior. Be sure to get adequate support during this difficult time and call emergency services if you feel as though you or your baby re not safe, if you are feeling overwhelmed, or if you have had thoughts of harming your child.