By Liji Thomas, MD
Colic is a distressing part of early infancy for many babies as well as their parents. The regular crying fits may seem to be intolerable, especially when it looks as if the baby is in pain. The most frustrating part of the experience may be that it seems impossible to comfort the baby. Ordinary soothing sounds and songs, feeding, or rocking, may all fail.
Measures to Treat Colic
While the causes of colic are unknown, no specific remedy can be proposed. However, it is beneficial to instruct the parents in the appropriate general measures that they should quickly adopt, as soon as the colicky behavior starts. These include:
Holding the baby close to you with direct skin-to-skin contact may help calm a crying baby.
Breastfeeding or Feeding Baby, or Offering a Pacifier
Babies often feel comforted while they suck, so a pacifier or feed may help to ease the symptoms.
Swaddling the Baby
Some colicky babies respond to being wrapped closely in a light wrap or sling.
Positioning Baby Differently
Babies being as various as they are, each baby has a different preferred position of comfort during the episode of colic. Some like to be carried against the shoulder, others to be closely held against the abdomen, and still others face downwards with the belly against the forearm.
Carrying them around
In many cases, babies stop crying and fall asleep peacefully when they are taken for a drive, either in their pram or in a car. A few babies may be distracted by the parent just carrying them around the house or garden.
Gentle background noise is soothing to some babies, such as the hum of a washing machine or vacuum cleaner in another room.
Dim light may be more soothing to a child who is colicky.
Massage or Baths
Some babies are comforted by a warm hand rubbing the stomach or the back in long peaceful strokes. All massages in babies should be given very gently. Sometimes a warm bath is helpful in stopping the crying.
Sometimes if parents or caregivers have been trying to calm down the baby for a long time, just putting the baby down gently in a quiet place may finally work, as the baby may have become more upset by the repeated attempts at comforting.
Over-the-counter medications are available to relieve colic, though no hard evidence is there to prove that any of them actually works. These include:
Simeticone drops can be added to formula or to the breast milk before the baby begins to feed. The agent causes air trapped in the milk inside the baby’s stomach to coalesce and be expelled instead of continuing down the digestive tract. It is usually felt that if the baby shows no sign of relief following a week’s therapy with simeticone, it is not worth continuing the supplement. On the positive side, simeticone is non-toxic.
Lactase drops are intended to overcome any transient lactase deficiency. Lactase is the enzyme that is responsible for the digestion of milk. These drops may be tried for up to a week, but if the symptoms do not improve by then, there is no point in continuing them.
Gripe water is often recommended by other parents, as a herbal treatment for colicky symptoms. Its composition may vary between manufacturers. It is recommended that such products are used in consultation with a medical professional.
Abstaining from dairy products may help some breastfeeding infants recover from colic if it is caused by a temporary intolerance to milk proteins. In the case of formula-fed infants, using hypoallergenic milk may be tried to test whether the baby’s colic lets up with this treatment.
While some substances may cause baby colic if ingested or inhaled by the mother, in most cases there is no obvious reason for the crying. It is important that parents not be blamed for the colic.
When the crying is uncontrollable or the parents feel unable to bear it any more, it is wise to remember that the crying spasm will eventually stop leaving the baby peaceful and unharmed. At the moment, therefore, the parent can afford to take a time out for a few minutes if the baby is in a safe place. Some tips to help parents maintain their cool with a colicky baby include:
- Practice some relaxation exercises or take a walk near the house.
- Have a relaxing cup of tea or another non-alcoholic beverage away from the baby’s cries. Make sure you’re not hungry.
- What is even better is if the parents can call upon a support system such as friends or family for a few minutes or hours to relieve the stress.
- Join a support group if you are feeling overstressed by the colic to gain a better insight into the way other parents cope with this condition.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc
Last Updated: Oct 10, 2016