What is colic and what can be done about it?

Posted on March 4th, 2013

Many parents find themselves sleep deprived and at their wits end because they’re struggling with a ‘colicky’ baby, or so they think. The question is, how do you know if your baby really has colic and if so, what can be done about it?

When you and your doctor have ruled out all other possible reasons your baby may be feeling discomfort (such as constipation, gastro oesophageal reflux, lactose intolerance, hernias, ear infections, renal and bladder infections, and viral illnesses – all of which have different treatment approaches), and your baby continues to cry at more or less the same time each day and for three hours (sometimes longer) at a time, colic is a real possibility.
Colic usually starts in the second or third week of your baby’s life and may last up to three months. Dr Elizabeth Price, who consults with Akacia Pharmaceuticals, explains that colic is self-limiting, which means that by three or four months of age it will improve, so don’t lose hope!

Dr Price also explains that the diagnosis of colic is limited to babies between two weeks and four months of age.

Signs that your baby may be experiencing colic:
• Your baby constantly draws his knees up to his chest the way you do when you have a stomach ache.
• He clenches his fists.
• His cries are loud and intense, and can last for three hours or more at a time.
• Your baby arches his back while he’s crying.
• His stomach may be swollen and hard to the touch.
• He may hold his breath for short periods.

The impact of colic
“Colic is one of the most common reasons for parents to seek medical advice within the first three to four months of their baby’s life,” says Dr Price. “Parents of young babies are usually already tired from lack of sleep and feeding routines, and the added stress of colic and fatigue caused to both parents can be enormous.” She explains that the feelings of frustration and inadequacy are common and that parents may begin to feel rejected by their baby, inadequate, or even angry.
To overcome this, it’s important that you seek help and avoid suffering alone. “See a doctor or healthcare practitioner who can rule out another cause for the crying and provide you with some reassurance if it is colic. Parents need to talk to each other, tell each other how they’re feeling, and most importantly support each other by taking time out if needed.”

What can you do?
Dr Price recommends trying different ways of swaddling your baby and says it’s very important to avoid over stimulation.
Try these rhythmic calming techniques recommended by Dr Price:
• Swaddling firmly in a light cotton blanket (avoiding overheating, covering the head, using bulky or loose blankets, and allow the babies hips to flex/bend).
• Hold or carry the baby on their side or stomach (on the back is safest for sleep but try other positions when trying to soothe the baby).
• Make a shushing, or “shhhhh”, sound.
• Swing or rock the baby (always supporting the baby’s head and neck).
• Allow the baby to suck (on the breast, a pacifier or even your clean finger).
“Dietary changes may help babies who have specific intolerances or allergies,” explains Dr Price. “For example, some babies may be allergic to the cow’s milk protein in their formula, and in breastfed babies the mother can try excluding allergenic foods (such as dairy, nuts, citrus fruits and soy) from her diet.”

Treatment options
“Drug treatments have been limited,” says Dr Price. “Simethicone is a safe medication that helps to decrease the amount of gas within the gastrointestinal system, but may not be effective. Anticholinergic medications have also been used, but they can have serious adverse effects (like breathing difficulties and seizures) and so should not be recommended.
“Probiotics may be beneficial. Lactobacillus reuteri (specifically the Lactobacillus reuteri Protectis® strain found in Reuterina™ Drops) has been proven to be safe and effective. It can help to improve the symptoms of colic, reducing crying time and is well tolerated and safe.”

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