Infant colic is ongoing crying without an obvious cause in otherwise healthy babies. It can be very stressful to manage but usually passes by 16 weeks of age.
What are the symptoms of colic in babies?
Colic begins around 2 weeks of age. Most babies grow out of it by 16 weeks. Babies who suffer from colic will cry inconsolably for several hours at a time, without an obvious reason. They may clench their fists and draw their legs up to their tummies.
The crying episodes often occur in the late afternoon or early evening. Sometimes it ends with the passing of a bowel motion or gas, or the baby may simply cry him or herself to sleep.
What are the causes of colic in babies?
The cause of colic is not known but it is not considered to be harmful. Some theories are that the baby's gut hasn't fully developed or that the gut bacteria is out of balance, but these theories have not been proven.
Sometimes other conditions such as reflux, lactose intolerance or cows' milk allergy may be the cause. If it is colic, your baby is otherwise healthy. He or she will be happy between crying episodes and feeding and gaining weight as normal.
Babies of mothers who smoke or take nicotine replacement therapy during pregnancy are more likely to develop colic.
How can I help my baby with colic?
Looking after a baby with colic can be exhausting and stressful. While there is no cure for colic, most babies will outgrow it by 16 weeks of age. Here are some tips to help a baby with colic:
Hold your baby upright during feeds and burp him or her afterwards.
If your baby is breastfed and seems worse after you have eaten certain foods, or if there is a family history of food allergies, consider avoiding these foods for a couple of weeks to see if the colic improves.
If your baby is bottle-fed, consider changing the type of bottle or formula you use.
Discuss alternative formula options with your doctor or Plunket nurse. Read more about infant formula.
Hold your baby during crying episodes. Play soothing music or white noise and keep the lights dimmed.
Babies like movement. Try gentle swaying or pushing them in a pram. Use a front pack or sling that allows you to carry your baby while you get on with some activities.
A warm bath or a gentle stomach rub might comfort your baby.
PHARMAC Update: Managing the unsettled baby, including colic and reflux
Presentation by Philip Leadbitter, Paediatrician Hutt Valley District Health Board at a PHARMAC full day seminar on assessing and managing the neonate held in Wellington, New Zealand, on 2 May 2016.
Is there any evidence for manipulative therapy for infants with colic symptoms?
The following is the plain English summary from a systematic review of manipulative therapies for infantile colic, published December 2012.
"Infantile colic is a distressing problem, characterised by excessive crying in infants and it is the most common complaints seen by physicians in the first 16 weeks of a child's life.
It is usually considered a benign disorder because the symptoms generally disappear by the age of five or six months. However, the degree of distress caused to parents and family life is such that physicians often feel the need to intervene. Some studies suggest that there are longer-lasting effects on the child, and estimates in 2001 put the cost to the UK National Health Service at over £65 million.
It has been suggested that certain gentle (low velocity, low amplitude) manipulative techniques (such as those used in osteopathy and chiropractic therapies) might safely reduce the symptoms associated with infantile colic, specifically excessive crying time. This review included six randomised trials involving 325 infants who received manipulative treatment or had been part of a control group.
The studies involved too few participants and were of insufficient quality to draw confident conclusions about the usefulness and safety of manipulative therapies.
Although five of the six trials suggested crying is reduced by treatment with manipulative therapies, there was no evidence of manipulative therapies improving infant colic when we only included studies where the parents did not know if their child had received the treatment or not.
No adverse effects were found, but they were only evaluated in one of the six studies.
Further rigorous research is required where (a) infants are randomly allocated to receive either treatment or no treatment and (b) those assessing the treatment outcomes do not know whether or not the infant has received a manipulative therapy."
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