Colic is a highly common condition that is not very well understood. The most common symptom of colic is uncontrollable crying in a baby for no apparent reason. It can be hugely stressful for parents when their otherwise well-fed and healthy baby cries incessantly and cannot be comforted.
Believed to affect one in five of babies, the symptoms of colic normally start within the first few weeks of life – however they normally resolve by around four to six months. Evidence shows that colic will not have a long-term adverse effects on your baby’s health.
The causes of colic are unknown, but some researchers believe that indigestion or wind may play a big part.
Symptoms of colic
A baby with colic will have a very intense and furious cry and her face will be red and flushed. Your baby may clench her fists, draw up her knees or arch her back. The crying is most likely to occur in late afternoon, or evening, and is usually persistent.
When to go to the doctor
If your baby has colic, it is recommended that you contact your GP when the symptoms of excessive crying first begin. While colic is not usually a sign of anything serious, it is important that your GP is aware of your child’s symptoms in case they are the result of less common conditions. For example, they may be the result of eczema (a skin condition), or gastrooesophageal reflux disease (GORD), which is a condition where stomach acid leaks back out of the stomach and into the throat.
Red flag symptoms
A number of signs and symptoms may suggest that your baby is seriously ill. The HSE recommends that you contact your GP immediately if your baby:
- has a weak, high-pitched, continuous cry (the crying that is associated with colic is usually strong, with a normal sounding pitch)
- seems floppy when you pick them up > takes less than a third of their usual amount of fluids, passes much less urine than usual, vomits green fluid, or passes blood in their faeces (stools)
- has a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above (if they are less than three months of age), or 39ºC (102.2ºF) or above (if they are between three to six months of age)
- has a high temperature, but their hands and feet feel cold
- has a bulging fontanelle (the soft spot at the top of a baby’s head)
- has a fit (seizure)
- turns blue, blotchy or very pale
- has a stiff neck
- has breathing problems, such as breathing fast, or grunting while breathing, or they seem to be working harder than usual to breathe (for example, sucking in under the ribcage)
- has a spotty, purple-red rash anywhere on their body (this could be sign of meningitis)
Because colic normally resolves itself after a few months, there are not many treatment options for the condition; however there are some self-care tips that you may find useful to help treat a colicky baby.
Soothing your baby
There is no proven way to comfort your baby and reduce the symptoms of colic but the following suggestions may help:
- White noise – some infants find the sound of ‘white noise’ soothing. This is the background noise of a vacuum cleaner or washing machine.
- Burp your baby after a feed – simply burping your baby can help to relieve stomach pain. Sit your baby up and gently rub or pat her back until she burps. Use a cloth to catch any reflux.
- Gentle movement can help to soothe a colicky baby – going for a drive or a walk in the pram or pushchair can be comforting. Studies have found that overstimulation can aggravate the crying in a colicky baby. Comfort your baby in a quiet, darkened room and if they have been recently fed, changed, and are not too hot or cold, it could help to leave them in their cot for a short while.
- Massage – Try massaging your baby’s tummy in a backward C motion. Use baby oil or olive oil and gently rub the oil in (but not too hard). Use soft, circular motions.
Prevent your baby from swallowing air by sitting them upright during feeding.
If you are breastfeeding, avoid drinking too much tea, coffee, and other drinks that contain caffeine. Some women also find that spicy food and alcohol can aggravate colic.
Holes in bottle teats that are too small may cause babies to swallow air along with their feed. ‘Fast flow’ teats with larger, or several, holes are available and may be a useful alternative.
Contact your GP for advice about possible medical treatments to help colic. Some mothers have found Simeticone drops to helpful in soothing their baby. The drops are designed to help release bubbles of trapped air in your baby’s digestive system, which could be helpful if indigestion is one of the causes of their colic.
Osteopath Gideon Seth Ries describes how osteopathy could help to treat a colicky baby.
“From an osteopath’s perspective there are several causes of colic, some are related to different digestive problems and each needs slightly different management. However, a crying baby may have no problem with his or her digestion at all, but be complaining of discomfort somewhere else that is triggered during or after feeding.
During the birth the head, neck , ribs and spine can be squeezed, rotated and twisted. During a C-section you could also add stretching to the vulnerable head/neck area and all of these factors affect the ability of the infant digestive system to do its job.
I would see many babies with reflux and silent reflux. Leakage of stomach contents is prevented by an internal valve reinforced by fibres of muscle from the diaphragm that loop around the oesophagus (food tube). If the diaphragm is distorted then the sphincter will not do its job properly.
A baby was recently brought to me by desperate parents. The birth itself was apparently uneventful, yet on examination, the muscles around the middle and lower rib cage of their baby were tense and there was a slight distortion of the rib cage, which twisted the diaphragm and disrupted the cardiac sphincter. It took two treatments to release the strain and for the reflux to stop and relieve the colic.
In my 23 years of experience as a Cranial Osteopath specialising in treating babies with colic, it seems that colic can also be caused by a retained moulding pressure on the baby’s head from birth. It seems to cause a stress response in the brain which in turn affects the activity of the gut, making it work too fast or too slow.
Babies who are delivered via ventouse and forceps are particularly vulnerable to these pressures. Quick deliveries may also cause persistent overstimulation of the nervous system causing colic. The Cranial Osteopathy approach to treatment is very gentle and works in a way that encourages the tissues to ease and release the strain patterns. This allows your baby’s body to return to a healthier more relaxed state that relieves the causes of colic.”
Gideon Seth Ries DO, LAc, ND, FSCC Oak Clinic, Killaloe, Co Clare www.oakclinic.ie.
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