Colic – it must be every mother’s nightmare. It is characterised by excessive, inconsolable, on and off crying in otherwise healthy infants.
It is common between the age of two weeks and four months, and mostly occurs in the evenings, and has no identifiable cause. It affects both breastfed and formula-fed babies.
Colic has no known cause; however, there are several theories on what causes it. These include; gastro esophageal reflux where a child repeatedly brings up food, overfeeding, underfeeding, milk protein allergy, and early introduction of solids. Other suggested causes include inadequate burping after feeding, as well as incorrect positioning after feeding.
Persistent crying may also result from food allergies, and more so, allergy to cow milk, and exhaustion from over-stimulated babies.
Besides unrelenting crying, most infants colicky infants will usually stiffen, draw up their legs, and pass flatus. Their abdomens will usually be tight, and they will seem relieved after passing gas or stool.
The crying associated with colic usually happens at a specific time of the day, usually in the evenings, but in some cases, this may be between 6pm and midnight. Colicky crying is very different from regular crying in that it seems more urgent, higher in pitch, discomforting, and irritating than usual.
Despite the fact that colic is present in healthy babies with otherwise no other medical conditions, it is important that persistent crying in young babies be looked into, and other causes of this crying be excluded.
Symptoms that may suggest other medical conditions include; vomiting, constipation or diarrhoea, high fevers, excessive sleepiness, refusal to feed, poor weight gain and crying all day.
These symptoms must never be ignored.
There is no known cure for colic, though there are many remedies that can supposedly relieve colic.
Treatment must begin by ruling out common causes of crying such as hunger and wet nappies. Should a parent be very worried about how long their child is crying, they should consult a doctor, since conditions such as ear infections may need to be ruled out.
Breast feeding mothers need to consider hypo allergenic diets free from peanuts, wheat, soy and other foods that are likely to lead to allergies in babies, which may exacerbate the colic.
It is also important to avoid common triggers of colic such as stimulants in breastfeeding mothers. These include drinks containing caffeine and chocolate.
Mothers should also avoid dairy products and nuts for a few weeks, as these may cause allergic reactions in the baby. In addition breastfeeding mums should avoid broccoli, cabbage, beans, and other gas-producing foods.
Some babies may be sensitive to proteins in formula, therefore switching formulas may be important for some babies to see which formula is best. Proper feeding practices are important.
Avoid over-feeding the baby, or feeding too quickly. If a bottle feed takes less than 20 minutes, the hole in the nipple may be too large and the baby could be at risk of swallowing too much air, which could cause colic.
Proper positioning of the baby is also important. In addition, burp the baby after a feed.
Tips that seem to relieve colic in infants include; soothing music, attention that includes eye contact, talking, touching, gentle rocking which is calming that helps them to pass gas, singing lullabies to the baby, and holding the child in an upright position.
This helps move gas out of the body and reduces heartburn. A warm towel or warm water bottle on the baby’s stomach may be soothing. Some babies like to lie on their stomach, while awake, while someone gives them a back rub.
Despite this, babies should never be allowed to sleep on their stomachs. Babies who sleep on their stomachs have a higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
The writer is a medical doctor and a public health specialist. Do you have any health-related questions? Write to email@example.com