Understanding Colic in Babies

Oct 28 2019     /     , , , , ,

What is baby colic?

It’s estimated that up to 40% of all infants have colic. It usually starts between the 3rd and 6th week after birth and ends by the time the baby is 3 to 4 months old.

According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, colicky babies have long periods of inconsolable crying and hard-to-calm behaviour, but are otherwise healthy. Episodes of crying for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, or for three weeks, specifically in the evening, can all be warning signs that your little one might be experiencing colic.

As a parent, coping with colic can be especially distressing. You feel helpless.  You’ve tried everything to soothe your baby, including cuddling, massaging and herbs, but nothing seems to work. The good news is that you’re not alone. We’ll discuss what options you can consider to help soothe your colicky baby.

What causes colic?

Why babies have colic is not fully understood, but studies have shown that babies with colic have lower counts of good bacteria as well as increased concentrations of harmful bacteria in their digestive tracts.

Cow’s milk intolerance has been suggested as a possible culprit, but doctors now believe that this is rarely the case. Breastfed babies get colic too; in these cases, dietary changes by the mother may help the colic to ease. Some breastfeeding women find that getting rid of caffeine in their diet helps, while others see improvements when they eliminate dairy, soy, egg, or wheat products.

Some colicky babies also have gas, but it’s not clear if the gas causes colic or if the babies develop gas as a result of swallowing too much air while crying. And some theories suggest that colic happens when food moves too quickly through a baby’s digestive system or is incompletely digested.

The specific cause of colic isn’t quite known and because of that there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach that can be taken but there are options to treat colic once it presents itself.

Treating Colic

Every baby is unique, and what helps soothe one baby may not work for another. The challenge is finding what works for you and your baby.  Here are some suggestions that might provide relief to both you and your baby:

  • Calming measures may be used and include soothing motions, limiting stimulation, pacifier use, and carrying the baby around in a carrier
  • Turn off the lights and keep surroundings quiet. Too much stimulation can often trigger crying or make it worse.
  • Soft music, white noise or a gentle shushing noise can soothe some babies.
  • Natural intervention with probiotics

At the moment, no medications have been found to be both safe and effective. For example, simethicone is safe but does not work, while dicyclomine works but is not safe.1

Dietary changes by infants are generally not needed but in mothers who are breastfeeding, a hypoallergenic diet by the mother—not eating milk and dairy products, eggs, wheat, and nuts—may improve matters. In formula-fed infants, switching to a soy-based or hydrolyzed protein formula may help.

Little clinical evidence supports the efficacy of “gripe water” and caution in use is needed, especially in formulations that include alcohol or sugar.1 The use of probiotics, specifically Lactobacillus reuteri, decreases crying time at three weeks in 95% of breastfeed babies but has unclear effects in those who are formula fed.2

For more information on colic or learn more about treating colic with the probiotic BioGaia, visit BioGaia.ca.

References:

  1. Roberts, DM; Ostapchuk, M; O’Brien, JG (Aug 15, 2004). “Infantile colic”. American Family Physician (Review). 70 (4): 735–40. PMID 15338787. Archived from the original on 2014-08-28.
  2. Sung, V; D’Amico, F; Cabana, MD; Chau, K; Koren, G; Savino, F; Szajewska, H; Deshpande, G; Dupont, C; Indrio, F; Mentula, S; Partty, A; Tancredi, D (January 2018). “Lactobacillus reuteri to Treat Infant Colic: A Meta-analysis”. Pediatrics. 141 (1). doi:10.1542/peds.2017-1811. PMID 29279326.

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