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Could your baby's crying be colic?

What is colic?

Colic is a common reason given for a baby crying more than usual.

However, despite being common, doctors aren't sure exactly what colic is of why some babies become colicky.

Stomach cramp is one likely cause of colic, with the crying stopping briefly then starting again, possibly caused by waves of stomach pain.

Colic symptoms

The definition of colic used by researchers is: "A healthy, well-fed infant who cries for more than three hours per day, for more than three days per week, for more than three weeks."

  • Colic usually starts at about two weeks of age in a full-term infant (or later in a preterm infant)
  • Colic almost always goes away by three or four months of age
  • There is no difference in the prevalence of colic for boys or girls, whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, or whether the baby is first born or not
  • Scientific studies have shown that children who had colic are no different in terms of personality, mental health, intelligence, etc. than children who never had colic

What causes colic?

Despite many scientific studies, no single common cause for colic has been found. That's why there is no one way to help it.

Some theories of the cause of colic include:

  • Digestive problems, perhaps due to intolerance to cow's milk protein or lactose
  • Reflux ( heartburn due to stomach acid and milk flowing back into the oesophagus)
  • An immature digestive system in which the intestinal muscles are often in spasm
  • Wind (gas) in the intestinal tract
  • Increased hormone levels that cause stomach aches or a fussy mood
  • Hypersensitivity to an environment full of stimulation (sound, light, etc.)
  • An intense temperament in the newborn period
  • An immature nervous system

Take note that all of these possibilities come from the baby, not the parent. Remember this if you start to blame yourself for your baby's fussiness.

First steps to address colic in your baby

Before looking to treat your baby's colic, make sure he is thoroughly examined by his GP or paediatrician to check for a medical reason for the crying and fussiness.

Some of the possible medical reasons for irritability in an infant include:

  • An infection (such as an ear or urinary infection)
  • Evidence of reflux or gastrointestinal distress
  • Pressure or inflammation of the brain and nervous system
  • An eye problem (such as a scratch or increased pressure)
  • An abnormality of the rhythm of the heart
  • A bone fracture
  • A hernia
  • Constipation

Treating a baby's colic

Based on your baby's needs, your GP, paediatrician or health visitor can help you devise a strategy to try to help him calm down. This usually means trying one intervention at a time to see if it helps and, if it hasn't helped in a few days, moving on to another one.

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