What Causes Colic in Babies?

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What Causes Colic in Babies?

Last updated: Wednesday, January 5, 2022 | 4 min reading time

All babies cry, but if your baby seems to be screaming non-stop, it could be colic. Before you reach for gripe water, here are the facts about colic.

Colic usually develops within the first few weeks of your baby's life, and it is a confusing condition for parents. Because the symptoms are similar to a myriad of other concerns, it can be hard to know when your baby has colic and when it's something more serious. Here's what you need to know.

What is colic?

Colic in babies may be defined as crying for over 3 hours per day, more than 3 times per week, for more than 3 weeks. A colicky baby is usually healthy, but cries a lot more, often for no clear reason. Researchers estimate that 1 in every 10 babies has colic.

While colic can be baffling and distressing for both you and your baby, it is not a disease. However, it can be hard to cope with a new baby at the best of times, so when your baby is constantly upset, it is only natural to feel stressed.

Symptoms of colic in babies

Symptoms of colic

The general signs of colic are similar to the symptoms of other conditions, so do pay close attention to the specifics. Take note if your baby:

  • Cries at the same period of time every day, often in the evening
  • Cries even when not hungry, or in need of anything
  • Cries in a high-pitched, screaming manner
  • Cries more intensely even after being soothed
  • Does not appear to have anything wrong

If your baby stops crying after feeding, changing or being soothed, it is not colic. It's normal for babies to cry when they need something, and to stop crying once the need has been fulfilled.

Causes of colic in babies

No one knows the exact cause of colic, though doctors believe certain things may trigger colic in babies, such as:

  • Acid reflux, or silent reflux, where stomach acid travels up into the oesophagus
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Inefficient or insufficient burping after meals
  • Milk intolerances
  • Normal growth and development in the digestive system
  • Overstimulation
  • Painful gas
  • Premature birth

Although colic in babies does not usually have an underlying cause, colic can sometimes be an indication of an illness that causes your baby pain or discomfort.

Since babies cannot speak, an infection or illness may make your baby distressed. Heart or brain issues, as well as external and internal injuries, can also present colic-like symptoms. If you cannot seem to find the cause of your baby's distressed behaviour, or you suspect your baby may have an underlying condition, it is recommended to speak to your doctor.

Can gripe water help soothe colic for my baby?

It's only natural for parents to look for any remedy, such as gripe water, in order to try soothing a colicky baby. However, it can be hard to know which remedies are safe or effective.

What is gripe water?

Gripe water is a liquid made with a variety of herbs to help soothe your baby. It is marketed to parents as a treatment to ease gas, colic, and other baby ailments such as teething pain and hiccups.

There are many formulations available. Some of them may contain sugar or alcohol, and a mixture of different herbs, such as:

  • fennel
  • ginger
  • chamomile
  • liquorice
  • cinnamon
  • lemon balm

While gripe water is easily available from pharmacies, health food stores, and grocery stores, do note that it is not considered a medication hence they may not have undergone the same rigorous testing that is performed on medicines. As its formulations vary widely, you may want to consider other options for your baby's colic.

Home remedies for treating colic in babies

Treating colic

If your baby has colic and your doctor has ruled out any underlying problems, there are some some natural home remedies you can try to comfort them when they become colicky. These include:

  • Try soothing your baby with an infant massage.
  • If your baby is bottle fed, try a different teat that minimises the amount of air introduced while feeding, which can cause a build-up of painful gas.
  • Keep your baby upright and burp your baby properly after every feed.
  • Lay your baby on its tummy to help ease trapped gas.
  • Review what you feed your baby. If your baby is fussy after consuming certain types of milk, try changing it and see if it helps.
  • Rub your baby's belly and circle their legs to try to release any trapped gas.
  • Spend more time holding your baby close, with skin-to-skin contact.
  • Take your baby out of the house for some fresh air.
  • Try using sound therapy to soothe your baby, such as white noise or gentle lullaby music.

Medicine and foods to avoid for a baby with colic

Some people might suggest remedies for colic that pose risks to your baby. You should avoid:

  • Adding rice cereal to a bottle of milk. This can pose a choking hazard, and there is no scientific proof that it will help with colic.
  • Gas drops or other medications. Don't give your baby any medicine unless your baby's doctor has advised or prescribed it.
  • Restricted diet. It's important for your baby to receive balanced nutrition from milk for the first few months of life, before you introduce a balanced solid diet with plenty of fresh food. Restricting certain foods from your baby's diet could affect their development.

When to see a doctor for your baby's colic

Dealing with colic

Most cases of colic in newborns can be relieved with natural home remedies. However, you should take your baby to the doctor or Urgent Care Centre (UCC) should you notice the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Rashes
  • Vomiting

At the end of the day, be assured that your baby will outgrow colic, and will not cry forever. The challenging times will eventually pass. If you have any concerns at all, take your baby to see a doctor or paediatrician. They will be able to rule out any underlying illness and give you advice on how to manage colic.

Brennan, D. (2019, May 19) Could Your Baby’s Crying Be Colic? Retrieved 11/7/19 from https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/what-is-colic#2

Brennan, D. (2019, May 19) Understanding Colic: Treatment. Retrieved 11/7/19 from https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/colic-treatments#2

Brennan, D. (2019, Mar 23) Understanding Colic – The Basics. Retrieved 11/7/19 from https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/understanding-colic-basics#2

Gill, K. (2016, Dec 7) What Causes Colic? Retrieved 11/7/19 from https://www.healthline.com/symptom/colic

Gill, K. (2018, Dec 4) 14 Remedies To Try For Colic. Retrieved 11/7/19 from https://www.healthline.com/health/childrens-health/best-colic-remedies
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