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What is Infantile Colic?

Amanda R. Bell
Amanda R. Bell

Infantile colic, often referred to simply as colic, is defined as excessive crying in an otherwise healthy infant. The exact cause of this is often unknown, although there are some common culprits. While there are several suggestions for dealing with colic, a large amount of patience and love is often the only thing that parents and caregivers can offer their baby; infantile colic will eventually pass on its own.

The term infantile colic describes excessive, non-stop crying beginning at around the same time every day and lasting for at least three hours; this occurs at least three times per week. This is not to be confused with the typical late afternoon crankiness most newborns experience; babies suffering from colic are often inconsolable. This condition usually presents when a newborn is two weeks old and can last until they are six months old, although many outgrow this stage at four months. Babies with colic will often spit up frequently after feeding more often than average, be extremely gassy, or have a hard stomach.

Excessive crying in an infant is referred to as colic.
Excessive crying in an infant is referred to as colic.

The reasons for infantile colic vary, and often there is no discernible cause for the crying. Some doctors theorize that the baby's digestive tract is not yet mature or the nervous system is not fully developed. The colic may be caused by an allergic reaction to the child's formula or to a food in the mother's diet. It can also be caused by the baby taking in too much air when eating from a bottle.

Massage may help soothe nervous or restless babies.
Massage may help soothe nervous or restless babies.

Parents of a baby with colic are often advised to burp the child more often, at least once during a feeding, and once afterward; this can help if the colic is caused by the baby swallowing too much air while eating. A formula-fed baby may have an allergy to the protein found in cow's milk, which is the base for many infant formulas; switching brands to a gentler formula other than one made from cow's milk and not iron fortified may help. If the baby is breastfed, he or she may be reacting to something in the mother's diet that is passing into the breast milk.

Breastfeeding mothers are often advised to begin an elimination diet to rule out the usual culprits of colic. These include cow's milk, broccoli, citrus fruit, and spicy foods. If the mother's diet is the cause, the colic should subside one the offending food is eliminated; breast milk itself is almost never the problem. Breast milk is digested much more easily than formula, and switching from breast milk to formula without first trying the elimination diet may make infantile colic worse.

While changing feeding practices may help treat colic, it may not make any difference. Parents should do their best to calm a colicky baby while still taking breaks for themselves as needed. Swaddling, gently massaging the baby's stomach, and rocking the baby while the newborn is facing the floor with its abdomen supported by the parent's arm can be helpful. If gas is believed to be the problem, there are drops meant for infants available at most drugstores; while these are not a guaranteed treatment, they may help.

Infantile colic can be extremely stressful, especially when coupled with the often erratic sleeping of a newborn. Parents should utilize all of the support available to them, whether by trusted friends or family, to take short breaks from parenting. If a parent is beginning to feel frustrated with the baby, it is almost always best to put the child in a safe location and go to another room to regain composure; patience is key in dealing with colic. Discussing the issue with the child's pediatrician is also advised.

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    • Excessive crying in an infant is referred to as colic.
      By: Dmytro Panchenko
      Excessive crying in an infant is referred to as colic.
    • Massage may help soothe nervous or restless babies.
      By: Dmitry Naumov
      Massage may help soothe nervous or restless babies.