Colic | Everything you need to know

Posted on December 9th, 2015

Colic | Everything you need to know

What is colic?

Colic is defined as benign, self-limiting, inconsolable crying in an otherwise healthy baby,” explains Dr Olusegun Adewuyi, a paediatrician at Life Hospital Piet Retief.

When does colic start?

“It starts a couple of weeks after birth, occurs at least three times a week for at least three weeks of the month. It also lasts for more than three hours a day, or occurs at the same time every evening. It affects anything from 5-19% of babies,” he adds.

What causes colic?

The causes are still not completely understood. While colic will usually resolve on its own by the time your baby is three to five months old, it’s always important to seek medical advice as it can be extremely distressing for parents and may result in significant psychosocial consequences such as maternal depression and child abuse.

Signs of colic

“Fussing and crying are normal for infants, and a fussy baby doesn’t necessarily have colic,” adds registered homeopath Dr Jaci Schultz. However, there are some very clear signs that your little one may have the condition. In an otherwise healthy, thriving child, these include:

  • Predictable crying episodes. A baby who has colic usually cries at the same time every day – either in the late afternoon or evening. Colic episodes may last from a few minutes, three hours or more on any given day.
  • Inconsolable crying. Colic crying is intense, sounds distressed and is often high pitched. You will find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to comfort your baby.
  • Crying that occurs for no apparent reason. It’s normal for babies to cry, but this is usually a signal that your baby needs something such as food, a nappy change or even a cuddle. Crying that’s associated with colic occurs with no clear reason and attending to her usual needs does not console your baby.
  • Posture changes. Curled up legs, clenched fists and tensed abdominal muscles are common during colic episodes.

Diagnosing colic

“A medical history and physical examination are very important when it comes to diagnosing colic,” says Dr Adewuyi.

Regardless of how upset you may be when you simply can’t console your child, try to take note of the following during the next episode so you can let your doctor know:

  • When your baby cries and for how long
  • Whether it’s a high-pitched or unusually loud cry
  • What seems to make her fussy
  • What, if anything, calms her down
  • Your doctor will also want to know how often and what your baby eats, and what her stools look like (big or small, loose or hard).

Other potential causes of unrelenting crying need to be excluded, such as:

  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux
  • Food allergies or sensitivities to something in your diet if you breastfeed
  • Discomfort, like being too hot or too cold
  • Hunger or fatigue
  • Pain due to injury
  • Pain due to an illness.

Treating colic

Due to limited knowledge about the causes of colic, treatment is often hit or miss and there are a wide range of treatment options offered by medical professionals. According to Dr Adewuyi these include:

  • Dietary modification: If you’re breastfeeding, you may be advised to avoid cow’s milk and dairy products, and to take adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals to see if this will improve your little one’s colic.
  • Formulas: If your baby is bottle-fed, you may be advised to avoid giving your baby formulas that contain partially or extensively hydrolyzed whey or casein based-proteins.
  • Probiotics: Some studies are reporting significant relief from colic symptoms by using the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri, especially in breastfed babies.

At present, there is no cure for colic. According to Dr Adewuyi, medication that reduces gas production has been tried in some infants with little or no effect, while antispasmodics have shown no benefits. “Consequently, complementary therapies have taken a major position in the treatment of colic,” he adds, cautioning that these should always be used under supervision. Dr Schultz advises to always consult a homeopath for a remedy specifically tailored to your baby’s needs, and recommends a well-researched probiotic with enough colony forming units (CFUs), which are a measurement of the good bacteria and yeasts.

Other forms of treatment include:

  • Coloynthis: A homoeopathic remedy specificly for severe abdominal pain or cramping. Recommended if your baby pulls her legs up towards her abdomen.
  • Mag Phos: A homoeopathic remedy specifically anti spasmodic in action. Recommended if your baby doubles over or lifts her legs.
  • Aethusa: A homoeopathic remedy if your baby frequently vomits up curdled milk.
  • Belladonna: A homoeopathic remedy for colicky pains that start and disappear suddenly. Recommended if your baby tends to bend backwards in pain.

The best thing you can do for your baby is seek medical help as soon as possible in order to find a way to help ease her symptoms. Remember that colic is not your fault; it’s important to understand how exhausting and emotionally draining dealing with a colicky child can be, and to make sure you get some time out. When you simply cannot calm your child, take a deep breath and try to focus on the fact that you’re not dealing with a medical emergency. No matter how bad things may seem, your little one will eventually grow out of it.

The five S’s

Dr Schultz suggests trying California paediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp’s five S’s technique when it comes to treating colic. “He maintains that all babies are born with a ‘calming reflex’ that’s a relative ‘off-switch’ for crying and ‘on-switch’ for sleep, and is activated by the five S’s, which closely mimic the rhythmic sensations in the uterus,” she explains.

  • Swaddling: Safe swaddling carefully avoids overheating, covering of the head, using bulky or loose blankets, and allowing the hips to be flexed.
  • Side or stomach: This is the best position to place your baby in when she is fussy.
  • Shhh sound: Making a strong ‘shhh’ sound near your baby’s ear, or using a CD of womb sounds or white noise.
  • Swinging your baby: Use tiny, jiggly movements (no more than five centimetres back and forth) always supporting your baby’s head and neck.
  • Suckling: Let your baby suckle on your breast, clean finger or a dummy.
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