Colic is thought to affect as many as 20% of all babies, and the peak time for the symptoms to show themselves is between 4 and 6 weeks of age.
A baby with colic is one who will not settle well, is very grumpy and upset and who appears to be off his feeds. Babies with colic can cry for hours at a time, which is very distressing for everyone concerned.
There are many different factors which may lead to a baby developing colic. Babies who are not feeding well, whether breastfed or bottlefed, may have excess wind in their stomachs which causes discomfort and leads to the crying.
Crying can also be caused by over-stimulation, tiredness, hunger or overfeeding. Women who smoke during their pregnancies are twice as likely to have a baby who suffers from colic. Before deciding on a diagnosis of colic, babies should be seen by a paediatrician or family doctor to rule out more serious health conditions. The main symptom of colic is persistent crying, which may last for several hours. Babies with colic can be hard to comfort and may draw their knees up to their chest and appear to be in pain.
Some babies are more sensitive than others to foods their mothers eat. Sensitive babies may develop colicky symptoms after their mother eats certain foods. Some of the main culprit foods for causing colic type symptoms in a baby are dairy products, chocolate, citrus fruits and wheat but babies may be sensitive to a whole range of different foods.
Some babies do not tolerate milk after their mothers have been eating very highly spiced foods, whereas other babies do not seem to mind a bit. The only way to work out which food might be causing the reaction in the baby is to eliminate that food from the mother’s breastfeeding diet and see if there is any difference in the baby. This process can take several weeks however and some mothers never really get to the bottom of what might be causing the agitation in the baby.
There are many different ways in which colic can be treated, and different things will work for different babies. Some babies with colic respond well to being kept in an upright position rather than laid flat, and parents often find that carrying their babies in a sling close to their body helps keep them calm.
Babies who are overstimulated by too much attention can also be prone to colic, so it is a good idea to keep things calm and peaceful at times when the baby is likely to be colicky by keeping the light dim, switching the radio or television off, and resisting the temptation to pick the baby up and put him down repeatedly.
One of the main causes of colic is thought to be linked with indigestion, and it is critical to ensure that babies are winded properly after a feed. Even if the baby falls asleep mid-feed, try to get them to burp before lying them in the cot. A bottle fed baby can suffer from colic as a consequence of sucking in too much air along with their milk, and switching to a faster flowing teat can help with this.
If all of the self-help remedies discussed above have been tried, and the mother has tried to exclude any foods which might be causing problems from her diet, then it is wise to see the doctor to rule out any medical issues. One of the most common problems which causes colic-like symptoms is lactose intolerance, where the baby finds it difficult to process the sugars found in milk.
This is a more common problem in babies fed on powdered formula made from cows’ milk. Doctors may advise a switch to a different sort of formula to see if the symptoms lessen in severity, and breastfeeding mothers may be advised to cut out dairy from their diet completely. There are also drops on the market which are designed to be used prior to a feed to help with digestion, and many parents feel these help enormously.