By Liji Thomas, MD
Colic is a frustrating phenomenon consisting of regular fits of inconsolable crying in infants. It is often associated with motor symptoms such as grimacing, drawing up of the legs or arching of the trunk, or clenching of the fists. The daily episodes of screaming may take a toll on the parents, but colic usually subsides on its own in 4-6 months.
Colic is thought to be due to swallowed air, so holding the baby in an upright position when feeding may help to reduce the amount of air swallowed.
If the baby is bottle-fed, a fast-flow teat will help to reduce the amount of swallowed air by allowing milk to flow freely when the baby sucks the teat.
Burping has always been a standard recommendation in the prevention of colic, though there is no evidence to show that it works. The baby should be held against the shoulder and gently patted on the back, over the stomach region, to expel the swallowed gas bubble. Sometimes the baby is held in the upright position and the stomach patted instead. A small amount of milk may also be ejected with the gas, so an absorbent cloth should be placed over the shoulder first.
Over feeding the baby should be avoided. If the baby tends to eat too much too fast, such as emptying the bottle in less than 20 minutes, a bottle with a teat of smaller hole size should be tried. Milk should still flow freely through it when the baby sucks.
Modifying the Maternal Diet
Some food ingredients which pass into breast milk may cause colic in the infant, such as spices, caffeine, or alcohol. Thus, some mothers may cut out these foods and beverages out of their diet to prevent colicky symptoms from recurring in their breastfeeding infants.
Dairy milk proteins may also result in colic in some breastfed infants, due to temporary intolerance to these substances secreted in breast milk. Removing all dairy products from the diet may work. If so, the mother should consult her doctor to decide on the right and healthy dairy-free diet, which will not result in calcium deficiency.
Avoiding chocolate is another measure which is sometimes advised. Allergens such as nuts are also advised to be cut out from the mother’s diet in some cases. Sometimes, mothers choose to abstain from foods which produce gas, such as cabbage or broccoli, and beans. If the mother is breastfeeding the infant, but is on medication, she should check that the medicines do not pass into breast milk and irritate the baby’s digestive tract.
Dealing with Allergy/Intolerance
Administering lactase drops may help avert colic if the baby has transient lactose intolerance hindering the complete digestion of milk. Some formulas have lactobacillus acidophilus added to them to prevent bacterial overgrowth in the gut, which could cause indigestion. This has not been found to make much difference in bottle-fed babies, however. Switching the formula may be of use in a few babies.
No single measure has been yet shown to prevent colic in infants, and infallible recipes passed down by family and friends may not fare any better. It is most important for the parents or caregivers to remember that the infant who has been diagnosed to have no organic illness is really well and growing well, and that the crying will not have any permanent ill effects. Moreover, responding quietly, promptly and consistently to the child, preferably by taking the child for a wheeled drive, is the most effective way to deal with colic when it occurs. Colic is sure to subside with or without treatment by the age of 4 months, or 6 months at the most.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc
Last Updated: Oct 10, 2016