Colic is a condition where a healthy, well-fed baby cries uncontrollably.

A doctor and nurse examining a crying baby

Colic is common and can reportedly affect up to three out of 10 babies. It usually starts a few weeks after birth and goes away by the age of three months. But it can last longer. If your baby is still colicky after this age, they may be experiencing a reflux disorder.

Despite significant research, the causes of colic are not known. Suggested theories include indigestion, trapped wind, or a gut sensitivity to certain proteins and sugars found in breast and formula milk.

Colic can even occur in adults, and is characterised by severe abdominal pain.

What are its symptoms?

A baby probably has colic if it cries for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, for at least three weeks.

In a healthy, well-fed baby, symptoms include:

  • Crying for no apparent reason: It’s normal for babies to cry sometimes, but crying usually means your baby wants food or a clean nappy.
  • Changes in posture: Curled-up legs, clenched fists and tensed abdominal muscles are common.
  • Unpredictable crying episodes: Babies will often cry at around the same time every day, usually in the late afternoon or at night.
  • Intense or inconsolable crying: Colic crying is intense and sounds distressed.

Contact your baby’s doctor if you think symptoms are due to illness or a fall, your baby’s lips or skin have a blue tinge during a crying episode, or you notice changes in eating, sleeping or behaviour.

How is it diagnosed?

There is no one single test for colic.

Your baby’s doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask you about symptoms and behaviour. This is so they can rule out rule out conditions that may be causing your baby’s excessive crying, such as eczema or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). GORD is a condition where stomach acid moves back out of the stomach and into the oesophagus (gullet).

If there is no reason for your baby’s symptoms, a colic diagnosis may be made.

What are your treatment options?

There are not many treatment options for colic, and it usually gets better on its own after a few months. However, the following tips may help:

  • Hold your baby during a crying episode
  • Prevent your baby from swallowing air by sitting them upright during feeding
  • Bath your baby in a warm bath
  • Gently massage your baby’s tummy
  • Avoid over-stimulating babies by constantly picking them up and putting them down
  • Use a ‘fast flow’ teat if you are bottle-feeding
  • Don’t drink too much tea, coffee and other caffeine-containing drinks if you are breastfeeding

As colic improves on its own, medical treatment is not usually recommended. However, if you have problems coping, contact your doctor for advice about possible medication. This includes: Simeticone drops (designed to help release bubbles of trapped air in the digestive system) and
lactase drops (eases lactose digestion) that you can add to baby’s bottle or breast milk.

There are also various alternative and traditional remedies (such as gripe water).

Can it be prevented?

As so little is understood about the causes of colic, there’s no guaranteed way to prevent it.

If you think the distress is related to feeding, you can lessen the frequency of episodes by trying the following:

  • Try a different position when feeding your baby
  • Burp your baby more often
  • Try giving your baby smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day
  • Slow down your baby’s eating process

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

The accuracy of this information was checked and approved by physician Dr Thomas Blake in May 2015