Colic is the name given to the mysterious sustained crying in babies aged between 2 weeks to 12 weeks.
It is usually characterised by
- Sustained crying for hours on end
- Regular occurrence in later evening hours, virtually daily
- Unresponsive to comforting by parent or to feeding
- The crying seems to calm down occasionally only to start again at high pitch
- No apparent reason that can be easily diagnosed by the parent (wet diaper, hunger etc.,) or doctor
- The baby clenches fists and/or pulls legs up to the abdomen or may close his eyes tightly
Causes and Cures
There are numerous theories about what causes colic - digestive distress, natural stress relief, overstimulation resulting in stress at the end of a long day etc., None are to be proved.
However, research has shown that there is a strong link between maternal smoking and colic with more than one study showing a doubling of the probability of colic1. There is also some research that shows that cow's milk in the baby's diet or the breastfeeding mother's diet may also contribute to colic.
There are no proven cures. Indian parents (especially based on advice from the previous generation) give gripe water to infants. There is no medical research that shows this is effective. Paediatricians generally advice against giving babies gripe water.
Medicines based on simethicone have been tried for reducing colic but again have not produced significant improvement. A 2007 report on a study using probiotics seemed to suggest that they had a beneficial effect on colicky babies but more research needs to be done on this2.
Do not administer any medication or remedy to your baby without consulting your paediatrician.
Effect on parents
The unexplained crying is a rollercoaster ride for parents. First they try to find solutions - feed the baby, burp him, comfort her etc. None of this works. So they go through heartbreak as helplessness sweeps over them. As the phenomenon continues, it turns to irritability towards those around them. If not interrupted here, the next consequence can be anger directed towards the baby.
What should parents do?
First, try the simple remedies like checking for a wet diaper, hunger, burping, pacifier etc., If none of these work, there are a number of ways for the parent to try and comfort the baby. Some may work for you while others may not. But one thing is certain, the crying will go away in virtually all babies by the end of 12 weeks.
- Comfort your baby by cradling him in your arms and holding him close to you
- Rock or walk the baby to create a rhythmic movement
- Do not get stressed. Research shows that anxiety in parents can be sensed by the baby.
- Sing to your baby or play some soft music
- A warm sponge bath or a warm towel massage to the tummy may help
- Bundle your baby for warmth
- Turn off bright lights and turn off the TV
Despite all this, your baby may continue to cry. Do not try to tackle it alone and do not feel that you are a bad parent. Studies have shown that up to 20% or more of babies born in the developed world suffer from colic3. Get help from other members in your family and let them comfort the baby for a while.
Do not feel guilty about taking a break from comforting the crying baby. Do this before you become resentful and angry with the baby. Go refresh yourself and reduce your stress. It is the best option for you and your baby. Above all else, remember that the crying will likely go away by week 12.
1. Shenassa, Edmond D., Brown, Mary-Jean "Maternal Smoking and Infantile Gastrointestinal Dysregulation: The Case of Colic" Pediatrics 2004 114: e497-e505
2. Savino, Francesco, Pelle, Emanuela, Palumeri, Elisabetta, Oggero, Roberto, Miniero, Roberto "Lactobacillus reuteri (American Type Culture Collection Strain 55730) Versus Simethicone in the Treatment of Infantile Colic: A Prospective Randomized Study" Pediatrics 2007 119: e124-e130
3. Lucassen, P L B J, Assendelft, W J J, van Eijk, J Th M, Gubbels, J W, Douwes, A C, van Geldrop, W J, "Systematic review of the occurrence of infantile colic in the community", Arch Dis Child 2001 84: 398-403