Baby colic (infantile colic) is the sudden appearance of distress marked by moaning or intense crying in an otherwise healthy baby almost at the same time every day which is usually in the evening) The condition usually affects babies within one month of birth and relieves suddenly at about three to four months of age although in some cases babies may suffer up to one year of age. Colic is distressing both for the baby as well as the parents. It can cause stress and depression among parents or even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as babies are put on their stomach to relieve pain.
Crying and irritability in a newborn infant is quite common and colic is not always responsible for this behavior. About 25% of the babies suffer from infantile colic. Symptoms of colic are :
- Inconsolable and high pitched crying in a highly irritated infant. Another unsual feature of the crying is that the crying bouts almost always occurs during a specific time period of the day, usually late afternoon or early evening.
- Specific postures as it is seen that babies usually adopt a specific posture during episodes of colic like curling of legs and clenching the fists with taut abdominal muscles.
- Symptoms of colic commonly deteriorate immediately after feeding and in babies who do not belch easily.
Colic can be mentally very much distressing to the family (depression in parents), fortunately it usually disappears on its own by the age of three to four months. It does not have any long term effect on the future growth and development of the babies.
The babies can cry due to various causes other than colic like due to hunger, uncomfortable posture or due to some serious underlying disease (septicemia). So babies with persistent crying accompanied with other symptoms like vomiting, change in consistency of stool, high or low temperature, fatigue, inability to gain weight should be taken to doctors to rule out any underlying serious illness.
It is not clear why colic occurs and why some babies are affected and some do not experience any such episodes of discomfort. Most commonly predicted causes are :
- Increased amount of stomach gas (due to failure to burp).
- Trapped intestinal gas.
- Muscle spasm.
- Diet: although in more than 90% of the cases colic attacks are not related to the diet of the baby, in 10% cases a food allergy is the cause behind colic. Usually cow’s milk based formula are responsible for allergy.
- Lactose intolerance.
- Another theory of colic being associated with maternal anxiety is not well proven.
There are many proposed theories regarding the risk factors of colic in infants like first born child, breastfed or formula fed child, premature babies and so on. However, none of these theories have been found to have any scientific basis. Some studies indicate that chocolates, onions and cow’s milk in mother’s diet may cause colic in infants.
Usually episodes of colic subside without any treatment by the age of three to four months. There are few treatments available for treating colic and often these measures only work for a short period before becoming ineffective. It includes :
- Burping the baby properly after feeding and stomach massages.
- Using antispasmodics.
- Gripe water is still widely used globally although its efficacy is questionable.
- Treatment with “good bacteria” (probiotics) to maintain bacterial balance in the baby’s body.