What is infantile colic?

Infantile colic, or colic for short, is described as excessive crying by an otherwise well baby. It involves periods of unexplained crying and irritability that may be difficult to soothe. Colic is diagnosed when crying occurs for more than three hours per day, for three days per week, for three weeks. It is a very common condition that affects about one in three babies, usually those between 2-16 weeks old.

Colic usually affects babies, that are otherwise healthy, between 2 and 16 weeks of age.Colic affects babies that are typically between 2-16 weeks old. 

Causes

The cause of colic is largely unknown. It is actually diagnosed by excluding other causes of excessive crying, including digestive system conditions, such as constipation or lactose intolerance, infections, or injuries. It is also a myth that an anxious mother or family can cause colic.

Risk factors

The main risk factor for colic is where the mother is a smoker. There are many other theories on risk factors, but none have been proven. Overall, it is a very common condition that affects both breastfed and bottle-fed babies equally. Colic occurs in both boys and girls and does not depend on the length of time in the uterus (i.e., whether the baby is preterm or full-term). The development of colic is also not determined by when the child was born into the family (i.e., first-born, second-born, etc.).

Preterm

A baby that is born before 37 weeks' gestation.

Signs and symptoms

Colic can be recognised by symptoms including:

  • Prolonged crying by an otherwise healthy baby;
  • A clear beginning and end to crying;
  • Late afternoon or early evening crying;
  • Bending of legs or clenching of fists;
  • A bulging belly or arched back;
  • Louder and higher-pitched crying than normal, and;
  • Being difficult or impossible to soothe.

Methods for diagnosis

The diagnosis of colic can be difficult as there is no specific test to identify it. It instead involves your doctor performing a physical examination to rule out other conditions that may cause your baby to cry excessively. It is common to only diagnose colic after it has gone away, which usually occurs around the age of four months. It can help to keep a diary of when your baby cries and discuss it with your doctor. This can include listing when and how long the crying lasts, what the crying sounds like and if there are any specific triggers for the crying.

Types of treatment

There are no specific treatments for colic, but there are techniques to reduce your baby's crying and help you to cope with a baby that cries excessively. Your doctor may suggest that you try to:

  • Ensure your baby is not hungry;
  • Be gentle, avoid startling your baby and provide physical contact;
  • Have quiet feeding times or play soft music;
  • Express the watery foremilk before breastfeeding your baby;
  • Feed your baby in a sitting-up position;
  • Burp your baby regularly;
  • Walk around while carrying your baby, and;
  • Take your baby for a walk in a pram, or a drive in the car.

The diet of a breastfeeding mother is a debatable issue, but cutting out cow's milk, eggs and spicy foods can work for some mothers. To do this, you can stop consuming one of these foods for a week. If your baby's colic improves, keep this food out of your diet. If your baby's colic does not improve, you can resume this food and avoid a different food for a week.

For bottle-fed babies, trialling a lactose-free formula may help if your doctor suspects lactose intolerance. The use of probiotics, also known as good bacteria, in the treatment of colic is a contentious issue. Interestingly, there is limited evidence that the use of herbal teas can be successful in treating colic in some babies.

Probiotics

Bacteria that have health benefits to the human body, such as Lactobacillus bacteria, which is added to yoghurt to improve digestion.

Potential complications

Although having a baby with colic can be a challenging time for you and your family, there are no long-term complications for your baby.

As a mother, it is important to get plenty of rest yourself. It can be a very difficult time for you. If you experience symptoms of depression, it is important to seek medical help, as postnatal depression is commonly associated with colic.

Postnatal depression

Depression that develops in a mother following childbirth, usually due to a combination of factors such as hormonal and psychological changes and fatigue.

Prognosis

Colic is a temporary condition with no lasting effects. It usually settles by four months of age. 

Prevention

There are no specific techniques to prevent infantile colic.