Colicky babies cry constantly and hard at about the same time each day at least three days a week. About one in five babies, usually a firstborn boy, develops colic. Usually seen between 2 weeks and 6 months of age.
Signs and Symptoms
- Your baby cries for more than three hours on at least three occasions a week, but is otherwise healthy.
- Your baby kicks a lot, pulls his or her legs up close, and makes tight fists.
- Your baby's tummy seems hard and he or she burps and passes gas often.
- The crying sounds like your baby is in great pain.
- Your baby spits up frequently after feeding.
What Causes It?Providers suspect colic is caused by one or more of the following.
- The baby's nervous or digestive system may be immature
- The baby needs comforting, or is over- or under-stimulated
- If breast-fed, the baby may be reacting to something in the mother's diet
- Antibiotics given at birth, either to the infant or the mother
What to Expect at Your Provider's OfficeYour health care provider will ask if the baby is eating well and gaining weight or has diarrhea, fever, or unusual stools. If you are breast-feeding, your health care provider may ask you about foods you have eaten. If your provider decides your baby has colic, you can work together to find ways to relieve your baby's discomfort.
Your provider will also encourage you to take care of yourself, like taking a break or getting help if you are afraid you will harm your baby. Remember that colic usually disappears at 6 months of age. If the treatments you choose do not work, your baby's provider may check for other problems, such as a digestive problem or allergy.
- If breast-feeding, nurse on demand, usually every two to three hours. Avoid caffeine, dairy products, citrus fruits, soy products, and spicy foods. Elevate the infant's head during and after feedings.
- If bottle-feeding, ask your health care provider to recommend a formula that is not based on cow's milk and that is not iron-fortified.
- Do not offer your baby solid foods before age 6 months.
- Hold your baby close, offer a pacifier, try rocking or rubbing the back, give your baby a warm bath, take a car ride with the baby, play soft music, or use an infant swing to ease the crying.
Drug TherapiesNo drugs are currently recommended, although simethicone may be helpful.
Complementary and Alternative TherapiesEliminating gas-producing foods and using supportive herbal or homeopathic therapies can help reduce or eliminate infantile colic. In addition, playing soft music, rocking the infant, or using "white noise" (for example, a dryer) may be helpful in soothing the infant. Reducing stimuli and placing the infant in a dim, quiet room may help calm the baby.
NutritionAcidophilus (especially Bifidus spp.) can be given to both the breast-feeding mother and infant. Use 1 capsule with meals three times per day for adults; 1 capsule per day for infants (break capsule open and administer powder in divided doses throughout the day).
HerbsHerbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day.
A tea made from fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare) or anise seed (Pimpinella anisum) may be given directly to the infant (1 tsp. before and after feedings) or drunk by the breast-feeding mother (1 cup three to six times per day). Both fennel and anise act as gastrointestinal relaxants and help expel gas.
Other herbs that have relaxing effects and help reduce colic are lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), catnip (Nepeta cateria), peppermint (Mentha piperita), spearmint (Mentha spicata), and linden flower (Tilia cordata). These may be added to the above tea as needed.
HomeopathyThere have been few studies examining the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. A professional homeopath, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for infantile colic based on his or her knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
- Aethusa — for infants who cannot digest milk, who vomit, and have diarrhea
- Belladonna — for colic with spasms that come and go quickly; the abdomen may feel warm to the touch and symptoms may coincide with constipation; children for whom this remedy is most appropriate are often restless and shrieking
- Bryonia — for pain worsened by movement and pressure; this remedy is most appropriate for irritable infants who lie still with knees drawn up
- Calcarea carbonica — for fair-skinned infants with foul smelling vomit, stools, and perspiration
- Chamomilla — for excessively irritable and screaming infants who are relieved by constant holding and rocking; infants for whom this remedy is appropriate are often teething and have green, foul-smelling diarrhea
- Colocynthis — for restless, irritable infants whose symptoms of colic are relieved by firm pressure; in these infants diarrhea and pain may occur after eating fruit; infant tends to bring knees up to abdomen
- Lycopodium — for infants who cannot stand pressure on the abdomen (even diapers must be worn loosely); symptoms tend to worsen between 4 and 8 pm and then again after midnight
- Magnesia phos — for infants whose symptoms of colic are relieved with gentle pressure or warmth applied to the abdomen, or while they are bent over; bloating causes the infant to loosen clothing; belching does not relieve pain
- Natrum phos — for colic with no other distinguishing symptoms
- Nux vomica — for colic which occurs when breastfeeding mother eats rich food, drinks alcohol, or takes drugs (recreational or medicinal)
- Pulsatilla — for infants with bloated abdomens after eating, and constipation alternating with diarrhea; may be aggravated by warm rooms, heat, or if the diet of the breastfeeding mother includes fruits, fats, pastries, or ice cream; relieved by rocking
ChiropracticChiropractors frequently treat infantile colic with a form of gentle spinal manipulation specially modified for infants. The duration of treatment is generally brief, consisting of three to four visits over a period of 2 weeks. Studies examining the effectiveness of chiropractic for infantile colic have produced mixed results, however.
In one study, researchers randomly assigned infants to receive spinal manipulation or an anti-flatulence drug (called dimethicone) for a period of 2 weeks. Infants who received chiropractic care demonstrated a 67% reduction in daily hours of colic compared to a reduction of only 38% in the dimethicone group.
In a different study, however, infants who received spinal manipulation for 10 minutes were compared to a group of infants held by a nurse for the same amount of time. Seventy percent of the infants in the spinal manipulation group showed improvement compared to 60% of those held by nurses. The researchers concluded that the difference between the two groups was not significant and that chiropractic spinal manipulation was no more effective than placebo in the treatment of infantile colic.
Physical MedicineWarm baths may help relax and soothe colicky infants. Add 3 to 4 drops of essential oil of lavender or lemon balm to enhance the benefit.
MassageClockwise abdominal massage may help relieve spasm and expel gas. Use 3 to 5 drops of tincture of catnip in 1 to 2 tsp. of almond or olive oil to enhance effectiveness. Apply warmth.
Following UpUse whatever works, and remember that your baby will outgrow the colic in a few weeks or months. Keep in mind, however, that colicky babies often grow up to have other allergy-related health problems, such as ear infections, asthma, and digestive problems.
Special ConsiderationsNever shake your baby. This can cause serious or fatal brain damage. If you are feeling overwhelmed, try the steps listed below.
- Have someone else watch your baby while you get away for a while.
- Join a support group.
- Call your baby's health care provider.
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