Ask the Dr: From Colic to Calm

Colic is frequent, prolonged and intense crying or fussiness in an otherwise healthy infant. It can present itself a few weeks after birth and intensifies around 4 to 6 weeks. The baby’s distress occurs for no apparent reason and no amount of consoling seems to bring any relief. These episodes often occur in the evening, though they can occur through out the day as well. Colic seems to resolve by 3 to 4 months of age.

The cause of colic is unknown. Possible contributing factors that have been explored include: an immature digestive or nervous system, imbalance in healthy gut bacteria, milk allergies or intolerances, overfeeding, underfeeding, infrequent burping, gas, family stress or anxiety.

Fussing and crying are normal for infants, especially during the first three months as baby is adjusting to his/her new environment. However, crying for three or more hours a day, three or more days a week, for three or more weeks is considered colic.
Common signs of colic include: intense crying that sounds like screaming or an expression of pain, crying for no apparent reason, extreme fussiness even after crying has diminished, predictable timing, generally in the evening, red face with pulled up or stiffened legs, stiffened arms, clenched fists, arched back, or tense belly. There may be relief in symptoms after the infant passes gas or has a bowel movement.

Though frustrating for parents, staying calm will help to minimize the stress. Keep a journal to see if there is any correlation or pattern with the episodes. If breastfeeding, there might be a benefit to limiting certain foods. Talk to your doctor or a pediatric dietician to see if they think any dietary changes would be helpful. Take your baby for a stroll. Play soothing music or white noise. Put your baby in a vibrating or rocking baby seat. It is okay to put your baby in a basinet or crib and take a few minutes to breathe. Take turns calming your baby with dad or have a friend or relative come over to relieve you for a bit. Talk to other parents of colicky babies for support. Most importantly, do not blame yourself as this is not your fault. Remember that this will end without any long term affects.

There are still other techniques to try that may be effective. Perform a bicycle motion with your baby’s legs. You can give a whirl at tummy massage with a gentle oil like coconut oil. Frequent burping can be helpful if there is gas trapped. And a warm bath can be very comforting and relaxing. It is always a good idea to have your baby checked by his/her healthcare provider to confirm a diagnosis of colic and rule out any other underlying cause.

Medications are not very helpful and come with their side effects. There are some supplements and herbal remedies you can try for a more natural treatment. A high quality probiotic can be quite beneficial if the colic stems from the gut. Gripe water and some herbal remedies have been successful at reducing colic episodes as well.

Cindy Wechsler is an Integrative Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Shalva Clinic in Westport, CT.