Infant Illnesses | Spotlight on colic

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A guide to this common infant illness. (Original image: FreshSplash/Getty Images)
A guide to this common infant illness. (Original image: FreshSplash/Getty Images)
  • If your baby keeps crying despite having all her needs met, colic might be the culprit.
  • But what causes it and how can you help ease the discomfort for your little one?
  • In some cases, symptoms might present as colic but could be caused by a more serious condition.

Having a newborn baby is overwhelming enough, but if they show signs of illness, it can be really scary.

At Parent24, we've put together a series on common infant illnesses to help guide you when your baby is sick.

Together with a local paediatrician or doctor we'll help you decide when you should actually panic – it's probably not as serious as you think, but let's be sure.

Catch more instalments of our #infantillness series here

A typical concern

"My two-month-old baby has suddenly started crying every night! I don’t know what to do! What could it be?"

Answer

Your baby might have what is commonly known as colic.

"As paediatricians, 'colic' or cramps are one of the most common complaints we see in the first three months after birth," Dr Michael Platten, specialist paediatrician at the Life Bedford Gardens Hospital in Gauteng tells Parent24.

His advice is to view it as "a normal part of newborn development".

While sometimes difficult to diagnose, colic is usually suspected when an infant cries for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week, for more than three weeks.

This generally begins after a few weeks and ends when the baby is around three months old.

"Normally the cramping or discomfort peaks at six weeks and gets progressively better until three months where it mostly resolves".

What causes colic

It is still unclear what exactly causes colic. A growing digestive system with muscles that often spasm and a still-developing nervous system are suspects, but other causes include:

  • Gas
  • Overfeeding 
  • Swallowed air
  • Hormones that cause stomach pain
  • Over-sensitivity or overstimulation from light or noise

Some foods have been linked to colic, including chocolate, onion and cabbage, and some babies with colic symptoms are diagnosed with a dairy allergy.

In some cases, the ingredients and the reconstitution of formula have all been implicated as causing issues for some babies.

Whatever the cause, colic is not your fault and not a result of anything you did during pregnancy or labour.

Symptoms to look out for

  • Occurs in paroxysmal episodes (this means a sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms)
  • A big change in the pitch and intensity of the usual cry baby makes
  • Increased movement, such as pulling the legs against the abdomen
  • The baby is almost, if not totally, inconsolable

How long will it last

This is the good news, in a way: Colic almost always goes away on its own by three or four months. 

How is it spread

Colic is not an infectious disease or something a baby can pass on. The worst effect is the frustration it causes the parents as they try to figure out how to console and calm the baby.

Treatments

A baby with colic may be inconsolable and may only stop when the baby is exhausted, but doctors suggest trying the following:

  • Soothe with a dummy
  • Push the baby around in the pram
  • Wear or carry the baby in a secure baby carrier 
  • Try giving a gentle back massage
  • Some babies respond well to swaddling
  • Ask your doctor if probiotics might help 
  • Speak to a pharmacist about available colic remedies
  • Visit a chiropractor who may assist
  • Try to avoid foods linked to colic to see if that makes a difference

When to call the doctor

Colic is in itself fairly harmless, but if there is a change in the pattern of the colic episode you may decide to call for help.

If the baby begins vomiting (particularly bile), suffers from a fever or raised temperature, passes abnormal stools or has any difficulty breathing a health professional should be consulted immediately.

In some cases, an intestinal blockage or twisted bowel may display the same symptoms as colic, but is of course more serious.

Tips and mom advice

Try to stay calm during crying episodes, because the more frustrated you are, the more restless the baby might become.

A lukewarm bath with Epsom salts can have a calming effect on the baby.

Ask for help! Another person to share the load is invaluable. A short break away might be best, Dr Platten advises.

"Crying has never hurt a baby so if you need to, take some time out to compose yourself then go back with a fresh mindset. A change of scenery does wonders.

"You are the best mommy for your little one, so trust your instincts. If you are concerned, get your little one checked by a paediatrician".

You can also ask a doctor or paediatrician directly via Health24 here: Ask an Expert 

Chatback:

Share your stories and questions with us via email at chatback@parent24.com. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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