Confronting Colic: What Parents Can Do

Taking care of a baby is no small task. Babies operate on their own schedules, forcing parents to consistently readjust when they eat, work, and of course, sleep. Various factors can make such adjustments especially tiring, and colic might be at the top of that list.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) notes that colic occurs when an otherwise healthy baby cries frequently for no apparent reason. All babies cry and fuss, and it’s important that parents do not misinterpret normal crying and fussing as colic. 

Colic is defined as crying for more than three hours per day, at least three days per week, for more than three weeks. Children who have colic also cry around the same time, and may turn bright red and cry as if they’re in pain. When crying, babies with colic may clench their fists or curl up their legs.

The AAFP notes that colic can start within a few weeks of a child’s birth. Symptoms are worst when a child is four-six weeks old, and many children outgrow it by four months of age.

While researchers have studied colic, there’s no definitive answer about what causes it. The AAFP notes that pain or discomfort from gas or indigestion may be a factor. When a baby cries, the child swallows air, which can give the baby gas that makes his or her belly feel tight. 

A digestive system that isn’t fully developed, overfeeding or underfeeding, sensitivity to breast milk or formula, overstimulation, early forms of childhood migraines, and emotional reactions to being afraid, frustrated or excited are some additional potential contributors to colic.

A colic treatment that alleviates one baby’s symptoms will not necessarily be effective for another’s. However, the AND notes that avoiding potential colic triggers may help parents as they try to treat their babies.

  • Feeding the baby: Breastfeeding mothers can document what they’re eating to determine if there’s any rhyme or reason behind their babies’ colic. Document when the baby exhibits symptoms of colic as well, and then look for patterns. If a child tends to be colicky after breastfeeding mothers eat a certain food, then moms can cut that food out of their diets to see if that’s what is triggering the episode. Medicines taken by breastfeeding mothers also may trigger colic episodes, so moms can discuss their medications with their child’s pediatrician and their own doctors.
  • Formula: The AAFP notes that babies may be sensitive to certain proteins in formula, so treating colic may be as simple as changing brands. Slowing down formula feedings also may work, as it can ensure babies are not eating too much and/or too quickly. Warming formula to body temperature and feeding the baby in an upright position also may help alleviate symptoms of colic.
  • Holding the baby: How a baby is held or rocked may help reduce symptoms of colic. Massaging a baby’s back while holding the baby across your arm or lap might work. In addition, holding the baby in the evening and while walking also can help. If a baby has gas, holding the child upright might alleviate the pains contributing to colic. Using an infant swing or rocking the baby in your arms also may help.
  • Comforting the baby: Parents can speak with their children’s pediatrician about the various techniques to comfort their babies. Many parents have successfully reduced instances of colic by employing various movements and stimuli designed to soothe the baby.

Colic can make for some difficult times for babies and their parents. Determining what may be causing colic and trying new ways to soothe babies can help both parents and their children.

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02 Sep 2021


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