Infant Colic: Causes and Guidelines for Parents

Infant colic causes strong crying episodes in babies that often end up upsetting parents. Midwife Sara Cañamero offers some advice.
Infant Colic: Causes and Guidelines for Parents

Last update: 09 November, 2020

Some of the main reasons for consulting a doctor are usually those having to do with sleep, feeding, breastfeeding, and infant colic. Today we’re going to talk about the latter, as it’s common for this issue to cause anxiety and confusion in parents.

The most common definition of infant colic describes it as episodes of intense, vigorous crying. These episodes last at least three hours a day, three days a week for at least three weeks in a healthy, well-fed baby.

Most of the time, colic appears around six weeks of age. Experts describe crying spells as abrupt attacks of great intensity that appear at the end of the day. Improvement appears around four to six months postpartum.

What are these episodes like?

It’s common for babies to adopt a very typical position. They bend their thighs toward the abdomen and clench their fists. At the same time, their face gets noticeably red and their belly gets very tense.

These episodes can last from several minutes to hours. In the periods between the crises, the children are completely asymptomatic and smiling. What’s more, they eat well and gain weight normally.

Baby crying very loudly.

You may be interested in: How To Help Your Baby Sleep Better

Causes of infant colic

The causes of infant colic are multifactorial, that is to say, there’s no single cause that produces it. Many times, several predisposing factors make a certain individual suffer from this condition. These factors, according to this study published in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics, can be:

  • Organic: Immaturity of the digestive system, lactose intolerance, etc.
  • Behavioral: The baby’s temperament, behavior at home (first-time parents), use of nipples, type of breastfeeding, improper latch.
  • Anatomical: Presence of lingual frenulum, alteration in the palate, low weight.

What can you do?

The first thing we have to say to reassure parents is that this is a benign process for which there are no universal remedies. The main thing is to comfort your baby and always attend to their crying.

First of all, just letting them cry isn’t going to make the colic go away. What’s more, it can also cause other complications on a physical and psychological level in your little one.

If you’re little ones crying, you need to rule out the most logical causes. For example, rule out if your baby is hungry, cold, heat, sleepy, or needs a diaper change, etc. It’s true that as the weeks go by, parents can identify their baby’s needs according to the way they cry.

Likewise, you must also rule out any pathology or disease, such as an earache or gum pain. To do this, it’s important to go to the pediatrician when you see that your baby may be in some kind of pain.

If from a medical point of view, your baby is healthy, but you suspect they may suffer from colic, then you may need to go to a specialized center with a multidisciplinary team.

What is an infant colic consultation?

The approach of an infant colic consultation may be multidisciplinarian. In this case, a midwife, a pediatric nurse, a physical therapist, and, when necessary, a psychologist usually come together in the consultation.

In general, they’ll begin by evaluating the child’s birth, gestation, first days of life, and family history. Then, they’ll perform a physical examination of the baby: Abdomen, diaphragm, oral cavity, signs of atopic dermatitis, etc.

In that same consultation, they’ll observe how the baby feeds, either from the breast or from a bottle, to rule out problems with latching. This is because, on many occasions, improper latching can cause babies to baby to swallow air.

Finally, treatment may involve physiotherapy or osteopathy, and the professionals will provide parents with the corresponding guidelines.

A newborn that won't stop crying.

Guidelines for parents regarding feedings and infant colic

  • If you’re breastfeeding, you should avoid nipple shields and pacifiers that can produce nipple confusion. You should also allow your baby to feed as long as they want until they let go spontaneously. This is when you can change to the other breast, after having burped your baby. Make sure the latching technique is correct and that the baby doesn’t have a tongue frenulum. In other words, make sure your little one can move their tongue correctly.
  • If you bottle-feed your baby, it’s important that the technique is also correct and your baby doesn’t present any alterations in the mouth. You can opt for an anti-colic bottle that regulates the flow of the milk and for formulas that are low in lactose.
  • After feedings, it’s important to keep your baby in an upright position so that they can expel all the air.
  • Doctors may offer dietary guidelines to the mother if they suspect the baby may have intolerances or allergies. These may include removing dairy, gluten, eggs, nuts, soy, or fish for two or three weeks to see if there’s any improvement. If there is, and if the mother is breastfeeding the baby, then she’ll maintain a slightly restrictive diet. If there’s no improvement, then she can reintroduce all the foods that she removed.

More guidelines for parents

  • An infant massage, performed by the parents or caregivers, may be beneficial for the little one. A physiotherapist specialized in infant colic can also perform the massage. While there’s little scientific evidence that abdominal massage modifies the digestive tract, there’s proof that it reduces crying and improves sleeping hours, as well as the parents’ attitude toward colic.
  • Parents must always tend to their baby’s crying.
  • Research has proven that skin-to-skin technique makes babies cry less, as does ergonomic babywearing. This ensures the correct position of the baby and helps them expel gases. Furthermore, having your baby close by helps you meet their demands immediately.
  • Slightly raising the head of the crib is a good recommendation to prevent infant colic.

When faced with infant colic…

In conclusion, infant colic is a very common condition in babies under 4 months of age. What’s more, it occurs regardless of the type of breastfeeding given.

Although there’s no specific cause, you can follow some guidelines, such as those mentioned above, to relieve the symptoms and make the situation easier on parents.

Nevertheless, the best thing to do is always to consult with a pediatrician to obtain a diagnosis and treatment adapted to each case.

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