Colic Remedies: 13 Tips to Calm Your Colicky Baby

Does your baby cry for a long time without any apparent reason? He could be a colicky baby. Remember, your baby’s colic is not your fault. This article has some very useful tips you must try.

By Dr Vivek Rege

Colic Remedies: 13 Tips to Calm Your Colicky Baby

New mother Vinita gets scared as her baby starts crying exactly at 5 PM every evening. It has become a routine for the 9-week old to cry uncontrollably at that time. No one can soothe him, he even refuses to feed. As she is unable to console her baby, Vinita blames herself that she must be doing something wrong and gets stressed about it.

Like Vinita, most mothers blame themselves when their babies cry for a long time. However, the reason for this could be something else. Her baby might be suffering from colic. Babies are termed as colicky if they cry for a long time and does not soothe easily. Do you know that colic is one the most common reasons parents consult the doctor in the first three months of their baby’s birth? 

What is colic?

Colic is uncontrollable crying in an otherwise healthy infant. The classical criteria for calling it a colic is often termed the 'rule of 3' – at the age of about three weeks or more, crying lasts for about three hours or more and occurs about three days a week. This goes on for about three weeks or more. Colic is not a disease and will not cause any harm to the infant, but it creates a lot of anxiety in the parents.

Usually, all babies cry when hungry, scared, tired, etc. But, an infant with colic will cry excessively, usually at around the same time of the day – commonly late afternoon or evening. Additionally, the cry of the child is louder, shriller, and may start and end suddenly for no apparent reason. During a crying episode, the child may clench his fists, arch his back, or even draw up his legs to pass gas. 

Eating and sleeping are disrupted by crying: The baby seeks the nipple only to reject it once sucking has begun, or, dozes for a few moments only to wake up screaming. Colic can have several causes.

Common theories on the cause of colic

Overstimulated senses: 

Newborns have an inbuilt mechanism for turning out sights and sound around them, thus allowing them to sleep and drink feeds without disturbance. Around the age of one month, this disappears, leaving the infant more sensitive to stimuli. With multiple new sensations like sound, smell, sight, touch coming at them, some infants get overwhelmed by evening. To release the stress, they cry a lot. Colic attacks end when the infant learns how to filter out some stimuli thereby decreasing the sensory overload.

Immature digestive system: 

Swallowing and digesting feeds is a big task for the brand-new gastro intestinal system of a baby. Thus, the food may pass too fast or not break down completely cause formation of gas within the intestines. When the baby cries out due to pain caused by the gas, he swallows air and adds to the gas already produced leading to colic.

Weak lower esophageal sphincter: 

Infants are known to have gastroesophageal reflux, which acts as a trigger for colic. Infants normally have a weak lower esophageal sphincter which allows the feed to regurgitate from the stomach into the food pipe (esophagus) and into the mouth. This usually disappears as the child grows to about six weeks of age. Colic gradually stops around the same time, or, at least, starts decreasing in frequency and severity.

Food allergies or sensitivity: 

Some infants are allergic to milk proteins while some formula fed babies have lactose intolerance which could cause colic. Rarely, colic may also be caused by a reaction to specific food in the mother’s diet, and this can cause tummy pain in the infant, which can set off the colic.

Tobacco exposure: 

Studies have shown that mothers who smoke during and after pregnancy are more likely to have babies with colic; even second-hand smoke exposure to the infant can precipitate a colic. Hence, smoking should not be allowed in the house to avoid stimulating colic.

Colic tends to peak at around six weeks of age, 80 per cent of the cases disappearing by the age of four months. Parents need to learn how to comfort their baby during the colic or take help from others to avoid getting stressed.

Colic remedies based on the possible cause

Suspected overstimulation:

1. If you suspect that your child is overstimulated, respond by picking up the child, comfort and calm her. A prompt response might help your colic baby.

2. Decrease the excitement, limit visitors and exposure to new stimulating environment for your baby, help in soothing your baby. Provide your baby with a separate room that has dim lights, less or no noise, soothing soft music and not much distraction.

GI issues:

3. Apply slight pressure to the tummy of your baby,  either face down on the bed or against the arm of the mother. Rub the back gently to provide relief.

4. You can try antigas drops, however, these are not always helpful. You can still try it after consulting a paedatrician.

5. Consider probiotics for your colic baby. Probiotics are natural bacteria present in our gut. Consult your pediatrician before you start on this.

6. Though, not a proven remedy, a lot of grandmothers would vouch for gripe water.  Again, this should be given to the baby only in consultation with the doctor.

7. Sometimes, diet restrictions for the mother also help the colic baby. If you are breast-feeding, avoid cabbage, cauliflower, citrus fruits, dairy products, eggs, soy, etc.

8. Changing the formula sometimes works in soothing colicky baby. Check with your paediatrician before you switch the formula for your baby. 

Other tips for calming a colicky baby

9. Cuddle your baby: Carrying the baby gives a sense of security and physical closeness may help him to settle down.

10. Swaddle the child: Warm a blanket or cloth and wrap the baby in this for comfort.

11. Music: Play soothing music near the infant, even the soothing voice of the mother may be adequate sometimes.

12. Offer a pacifier:  Sucking is soothing for the infant, so give her something to suck on.

13. Get out of the house, enclosed environment: The infant may be bored with the same surroundings, so go out into the garden or take a walk. Change of place and fresh air may help calm the baby.

Word of caution:  Constant crying of babies may indicate some other diseases or conditions. Colicky crying should not be ignored and dismissed just as colic. Look out for other symptoms like vomiting, distension of abdomen, fever, constipation, refusal of feed, loose stools, blood in stools, etc. In case any of these is present, consult the paediatrician for a correct diagnosis and specific therapy for the infant.

The author is a consultant paediatric surgeon and paediatric urologist at Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai.

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