The joy of nursing a newborn may have challenging stretches for some mothers when, after weeks of nothing but feeding, sleep and regular diaper changes, the baby suddenly erupts into a series of loud cries, a grimacing face and clenched fists. All attempts to soothe the baby come to naught. This cycle continues for what seems like an eternity – Welcome to the world of colic. This blog post intends to share tips on understanding and coping with colic.
What is colic?
It has been variously described as a scenario where an infant cries inconsolably for hours on end. Renowned American pediatrician Dr. Morris Wessel conducted a study on excessively fussy children close to 40 years ago.
He chose to describe colicky babies in a non-scientific manner that has stuck to date. His definition of a colicky infant was a child who cried for more than 3 hours a day, for more than 3 days a week, for over 3 weeks. This is often referred to as the “Rule of 3’s” and these rules came to be known as the Wessell Criteria, which most doctors use for their diagnosis.
Occurrences of colic have been recorded from as early as the second week after birth and may continue to run to about three months.
What you need to know about colic
- Some experts believe that colic occurs in all babies though only about 20%- 25% of babies do experience.
- Many babies with colic will move their legs in a kicking motion, clench their fists and pass wind. They may also have distended stomachs as a result of gas. It is important to note that gas is not a cause of colic but has been singled out as a symptom owing to the fact that babies swallow air when they are crying.
- Baby’s crying intensifies in the evenings
- A colicky baby’s cry often seems discomforting, intense and creates the impression of pain
- It usually peaks around 6 to 8 weeks after birth.
- Colic should end anywhere between 3 and 9 months of age.
Causes of colic
The exact cause of colic remains a mystery. There isn’t a definite answer to the cause of these long crying bouts in babies.
It is equally important to note that colic has nothing to do with genetics, any incidences during pregnancy or childbirth. It is also not a reflection on parenting skills.
There are several theories behind the possible causes of colic. The most prominent include
- Hypersensitivity – Babies are born with an in-built mechanism that shuts out light and noise, allowing them to eat and sleep undisturbed. This mechanism disappears nearly a month after birth, leaving them exposed and sensitive to stimulating factors in their environment. This exposure to new stimuli overwhelms some of these babies whose only mode of releasing stress is through crying.
- Immature digestive system – An infant’s digestive system will face difficulties in breaking down food as it may be taken in too fast and not completely broken down. This may cause pain and discomfort owing to an accumulation of gas in baby’s intestines.
- Food allergies & sensitivity – Some breastfed babies may be allergic to certain foods in their mother’s diet. Formula fed babies on the other hand may be lactose intolerant. Which ever way you choose to look at it, these allergies may be a cause of stomach discomfort which could trigger off colicky behavior.
Remember, colic doesn’t have a definitive cause therefore there isn’t a proven cure. What however exists is a number of remedies aimed at reducing the intensity of the crying and any factors that could worsen the situation.
Some of these remedies include:
- Responsiveness to baby’s cries in the event of over-stimulation– A baby will cry because this is their only way of communicating. It is their only way to cope with a totally new environment. Prompt response to baby’s cries eventually reduces their crying. It is also important to create a calm environment to enable the baby to relax and limit exposure to visitors and new environments.
- Hold your baby – This is one of the most effective remedial measures as the more hours a baby is held, the less fussy they will be in the evenings.
- Apply some pressure on baby’s stomach – Some babies get relief when pressure is placed on their abdomens. This is done by placing the baby face down on the lap or upright with the tummy against the carrier’s shoulder and gently rubbing their back to release any gas that may have accumulated in the stomach.
- Burp the baby often – Babies will at times cry relentlessly due to a buildup of gas. Burping them at times helps to ease the discomfort.
- Be mindful of your diet – This applies to breastfeeding mothers whose babies may be sensitive or allergic to any foods they consume.
- Get out of the house – Sometimes, just a change to an outdoor location will magically change a baby’s mood.
It is also important to get medical advice for reassurance and also to rule out any underlying medical issues that could be causing the crying.
Coping with colic
Babies will deal with the discomforts of colic through crying. They will cry for long spells and will be fine. Parents, on the other hand, bear the biggest brunt as they take in the physical and emotional toll of caring for their babies.
While there lacks a definitive coping mechanism, these approaches can serve to provide that much needed relief.
- Share care giving duty – A fresh pair of arms can play a huge role in bringing calm to a crying baby. Where there are two parents during baby’s crying moments, caregiving duty can be split equally between the two.
- Relax – Yes, it is important to respond to baby’s cries as this is their only way to communicate. Don’t forget about yourself though…take a 10-15 minute break every so often just to breathe, relax and regroup. This can be important in coping with baby’s colicky phase.
- Share – Don’t keep your frustrations bottled in. Don’t try to be a super parent. Talk about it. This is not only good for your overall mental and physical well being but also helps in travelling through this journey of parenthood.