Identifying colic: Signs and Symptoms
For crying out loud! How is it possible that such a tiny human being can have such a deafening voice, and the energy to wail for hours upon end? It’s a question posed by many new parents and interestingly, babies’ cries can mean a variety of things, expressing everything from hunger to tiredness to loneliness, but they will usually ease once you give them what they want. However, this time it’s different: your infant is inconsolable and seems to be in pain. This is likely the initial sign of a condition called colic, or persistent crying.
What is colic?
Colic is a behavioral condition in which a baby cries loudly and persistently, typically for hours at a time and at about the same time each day. The percentage of babies that experience varies, but roughly 10 to 20 percent of babies will experience colic, which typically affects infants between three and six weeks old and can last until they are three or four months old.
What causes colic?
There are many different theories about colic’s causes, but there is no definitive answer to pinpoint the reason for the condition. Some of the common theories behind colic include gas, overfeeding, stressful environment and allergic reaction to formula or milk.
“While colic is very common, it is still a mystery to health care experts,” said Alison Pittman, clinical assistant professor and pediatric nurse with the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing. “We know when and how it presents, but we don’t know how to treat it effectively.”
How to identify colic
Colic is typically identified with the number three: three hours of crying, three days per week, three weeks in a row. Still, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. “Not all colic episodes are three hours,” Pittman said. “If your baby cries inconsolably for more than an hour almost every day and usual techniques aren’t helping, you should call your health care provider.”
Babies typically experience colic in the afternoon or evening, but it may present at different times of day. Be aware of symptoms of abdominal pain, as they often accompany colic.
Your baby’s health care provider will rule out any health issues, such as bowel obstruction or complications, and ask how you are feeding the baby to make sure the baby isn’t swallowing air and experiencing gas.
How to treat a colicky baby
If health care providers agree that it is, in fact, colic, then they will likely recommend a change in diet. If the change in diet doesn’t help, try soothing your baby with soft sounds, motion or other techniques, such as the colic carry, where a crying baby lays on their stomach on a parent’s forearm with their head supported by the palm of your hand.
“Many of the same ways you treat a crying baby are the same way to treat a colicky baby,” Pittman said. “Try using soothing sounds and holding your baby closely.”
Keep a journal to track what is and isn’t working when trying to calm your baby. Colic sometimes is very difficult to treat as every baby is different. “What works for one child may not work for yours,” Pittman said. “And what works for your child may not work the next day for them, so try different techniques.”
Advice for parents
Colic can be very stressful for a household, and it can cause tensions to be high throughout the day. Having a support system nearby is important to keep everyone calm.
“Taking a break from time to time is necessary,” Pittman said. “If there is a family member or friend who can come in and take over for 10 minutes while you step outside and relax a bit, that will be extremely beneficial.”
Your baby’s routine outside of colic episodes should be the same, so take note of any changes you notice. If your baby is not feeding, has a change in alertness or other habits during the day or has a fever, take your baby to your health care provider.
If you start to worry about your child developing lasting habits, Pittman says fear not. “Colic is temporary and has no lasting effect on your child,” Pittman said. “It will be over soon, and children who experience colic turn out just as well as those who didn’t.”