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Understanding Colic

You might have heard many stories of parents struggling with inconsolable colicky babies, but as daunting as the prospect of having to deal with a colicky newborn might seem, the reality is actually quite simpler than it’s made out to be. By understanding what colic is and the reasons behind it, you can take the necessary steps to help soothe your little one and bring peace back to your home.

Recognizing Colic
Babies normally cry when they’re hungry, wet, scared, or tired. Colicky babies, however, will cry uncontrollably for seemingly no apparent reason, sometimes for more than three hours non-stop around the same time each day for three or more days a week, and for three weeks at least. Colic is not a disease, and it won’t cause lasting harm to your baby, but it can be stressful for both the baby and the parents. 

Babies who experience colic are usually 2 to 3 weeks old. In the case of premature babies, colic may begin 2 or 3 weeks after the baby’s original due date. The good news about colic is that it improves significantly when babies reach 3-4 months of age, and by the 5th month most babies will be over it. Colic tends to reach its peak when the baby is 6 weeks old; the trick to comforting your baby when colic is at its worst is to determine why your baby is colicky in the first place.

Experts have yet to determine the exact cause of colic, however there are different theories on what triggers it. Once you find out the reason behind your baby’s irritation, you can take suitable steps to minimize it.

• Immature Digestive System: Newborns tend to have sensitive digestive tracts that produce insufficient amounts of the enzymes and digestive juices that are required to properly break down the proteins in breast milk or formula, leading to painful gas. Babies with this problem will become colicky after feeding or before a bowel movement.
• Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER): Young babies will sometimes experience acid reflux, regurgitating their stomachs’ contents and acids due to their underdeveloped lower esophagus sphincter, causing the irritation of the esophagus. Acid reflux in babies feels much like heartburn in adults and can be quite uncomfortable.
• Oversensitivity: Some babies don’t cope well when overloaded with sensory stimuli such as new sights, sounds, smells and sensations, leaving them over stimulated and overwhelmed. Babies usually become better able to tune out their surroundings by the time they are 3-5 months old. If your baby is colicky due to overstimulation, rocking, bouncing, singing to and driving it might make things worse. Try to discern how your baby responds to certain stimuli and avoid those that irritate it.
• Mother’s Diet: In some cases, breastfed babies might become colicky as a result of irritants in their mothers’ breast milk. This usually happens if the mother’s diet includes certain problematic foods, such as dairy products, spicy food, caffeine, alcohol, wheat products, cruciferous vegetables, nuts, strawberries, and garlic. Try to figure out which foods cause your baby discomfort and cut them out of your diet until your baby is a bit older.
• Insufficient Milk Supply: Breast milk in breastfeeding mothers can sometimes be insufficient the first month after childbirth. Its supply also tends to dwindle around evening, which is when babies usually become colicky. If this is the case, you might want to consider resorting to supplementation with pumped milk to correct the problem.
• Unhealthy Environment: Homes where either of the parents or one (or more) of the family members smokes tend to trigger and increase colicky behavior in newborns. Some experts also believe that homes where there is much tension between the parents can contribute to a baby’s irritation.

When to Call the Doctor
There’s no harm in taking your colicky baby to the doctor for a checkup; doing so might help you determine the cause behind your baby’s discomfort, and can rule out other potential causes such as intestinal or urinary tract infection. If your baby exhibits other symptoms in addition to excessive crying, such as fever, bloody stools or vomiting, visit your pediatrician immediately, as these are not symptoms of colic and can indicate a serious underlying problem.