What is Colic and How to Deal With It
There are plenty of joys - and also challenges - that come with being the parents of a new baby. One of the toughest challenges to face can be having a baby who has colic. These frequent bouts of crying can be upsetting to tired and stressed parents, and have a ripple effect through the family. What exactly is colic and how can parents help their baby - and themselves - cope? This guide will cover all of that information and more.
What is Colic?
Colic is when a healthy baby fusses or cries frequently and regularly for no apparent reason - they’re not hungry or in need of a diaper change or in discomfort. While it’s perfectly normal for babies to cry, babies with colic cry more than most babies even though they’re otherwise healthy.
Colic isn’t a disease, and colic doesn’t mean your baby is sick. Colic is a catch-all term for excessive crying in babies, defined as crying for at least 3 hours per day, at least 3 times per week, for three weeks or longer. Colic has no known cause and no cure, aside from the passing of time. That’s right parents, you generally just have to wait it out. And it’s common - about 1 in 5 babies has colic.
What Causes Colic?
There are several suspected causes of these fussy periods for babies, though none have been determined to be a known factor.
Overstimulation could be a factor - babies become much more sensitive to their surroundings around one month old, and they might be overwhelmed with all these new sights, sounds, and smells by the end of the day. Crying could be a way to release all this stress.
Digesting food is another potential cause - it’s a big task for a baby’s brand new digestive system. If food is not digested fully and passes through the system too quickly, the result is gas, and those gas pains could trigger colic.
Heartburn is also another possible culprit for colic. Infant GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) has been found to trigger episodes of colic in babies who already have it, though it does not cause colic on its own. GERD in babies is often the result of an underdeveloped muscle that keeps stomach acid from flowing back up into the throat and mouth and irritating the esophagus.
Do Foods Cause Colic?
It’s unclear whether there are foods that cause colic in babies. Some doctors suspect that colic may be triggered by an allergy to cow’s milk or lactose intolerance in formula-fed babies, or a reaction to foods in the mom’s diet in breastfed babies. It’s possible that these allergies or intolerances set off tummy pain, which sets off the colic - but nothing is known for sure.
Remedying a Colic Baby
The best remedies depend on what you suspect is the cause of the colic.
If you think your baby might be overstimulated, be sure to respond to her cries right away and cuddle her, or swaddle her in a soft blanket fresh out of the dryer. Avoiding new experiences and visitors in the late afternoon and evening when she is tired can also help.
If the pain is possibly due to intestinal issues, try ensuring you’re burping your baby correctly and effectively. Your doctor may recommend anti-gas drops as well. You can also try applying gentle pressure on your baby’s tummy by placing him face-down on your lap or trying the “colic carry” - laying face-down with his belly on your arm.
Switching foods or formulas can sometimes offer relief as well if the colic is triggered by an intolerance or allergy. Talk to your doctor about temporarily eliminating potential allergens or irritants from your diet if you’re breastfeeding. If you’re formula feeding, ask your doctor if switching to one that is designed for sensitive tummies or free of cow’s milk to see if that helps.
While having a baby with colic can be stressful and frustrating, take comfort in the fact that most babies grow out of it on their own. Colic usually begins when an infant is between 3 and 6 weeks old, and typically ends when the baby is 3 or 4 months old. This won’t be forever.
Difference Between Acid Reflux and Colic
While acid reflux (GERD) is a possible trigger for colic in babies who suffer from it, acid reflux does not cause colic on its own. The difference between colic and reflux in babies is that reflux is a disease with a clear cause, while colic’s cause and cure are not known.
Symptoms of acid reflux in infants include frequent spitting up, irritability during and after feedings, and poor eating. Thankfully, most babies outgrow GERD by their first birthday (and colic after just a few months).
Having a baby who suffers from colic is no fun - for them or for you as a parent. But knowing the potential causes, talking to your pediatrician about options for relief, and remembering that this phase will pass can all help everyone stay calm and enjoy the time with your little one.