Most parents of newborns are very familiar with symptoms of colic:
• Sudden outburst of excessive crying at about the same time every day
• Apparent abdominal pain demonstrated by bringing knees up to the stomach
Some babies cry more than others—some a lot more. Colic is a condition of early infancy characterized by loud crying, apparent abdominal pain, and irritability. Crying spells caused by colic usually last for 3–4 hours at a time. Colic typically starts 10 days to 3 weeks after birth and stops by the baby’s fourth month. Babies who have colic usually start crying about the same time each day, but some infants may cry almost constantly.
Colic is more common in first-born children than in later children. Breastfeeding seems to decrease the risk of colic in very young infants but to increase the risk of colic in older infants. One clinical study involving 89 breastfed and formula-fed infants found that at 2 weeks of age, 43 percent of formula-fed infants cried more than 3 hours a day but only 16 percent of breastfed infants cried more than 3 hours a day. At 6 weeks, however, the percentages were nearly reversed, 12 percent of formula-fed infants crying more than 3 hours a day versus 31 percent of breastfed infants. Mothers who are older and better educated are more likely to seek medical care for colic.
The causes of colic are not well known. It is not caused by hunger, pain, or too much gas. It may be due to air swallowed when the baby sucks on fingers or toes or the bottle, or it could be due to overfeeding the baby either cow’s milk or breast milk. Colic is sometimes linked to an allergy to cow’s milk. Some recent research suggests colic may be due to reflux esophagitis, a condition in which acid backs up from the stomach to the throat. A holistic approach to treatment includes:
Treatments that do not help:
∆ Simethicone (My Baby Gas Relief Drops, Digel, Gas-X, Mylanta).
Treatments that help, but involve serious medical risk:
∆ Dicyclomine drugs (Bemote or Di-Spaz).
Treatments that help:
∆ Carminative herbs (used as described below).
∆ Whey-based formulas (Neocate).
For generations, parents of colicky babies have picked them up, talked to them, carried them around, offered them pacifiers, and given them a quiet place to rest. Clinical studies have not found that one method of calming the baby is better than another, but that any kind of reassurance helps. Being careful to change diapers, placing the baby near the mother, and either putting the baby down to sleep or stimulating the baby with play was found in one study to be twice as effective as dietary changes alone. On the other hand, while increasing specific parental interventions for colic helps, it does not lead to drastic improvement. One study found that colicky babies held for 4-1/2 hours every day cried 5 minutes a day less than babies held for 2-1/2 hours a day. Balanced parental attention is best.
Clinical study suggests that the most commonly prescribed medication for colic, simethicone (My Baby Gas Relief Drops, Digel, Gas-X, Mylanta) does not help the condition. In one clinical trial, twice as many infants improved after taking no medication at all (the placebo) as did after taking simethicone. Drugs that act on the baby’s nervous system, such as dicyclomine (Bemote or Di-Spaz), do relieve colic but make the baby very sensitive to hot weather and can also cause constipation.
Sugar water, low-lactose milk, and soy milk help relieve colic in some babies but not in others. The smell of soy milk may be a problem for some infants. Most babies prefer the smell of cow’s milk or whey. A recent study in the Netherlands found that a whey-based formula reduced crying by an average of an hour a day. Since whey-based formulas such as Nestlé-Carnation Good Start smell better and cost less, they are a useful treatment for colic. It is only necessary to give formula for one feeding a day. Other feedings can be breast milk or cow’s milk. Results usually take about a week. Babies who tend to spit up may do better on amino-acid-based formulas such as Neocate.
An even less expensive treatment for colic is the use of carminative herbs. Chamomile teas have been used for centuries to treat colic. A clinical study found that giving babies 1/2 c (125 milliliters) of a calming tea made with chamomile, fennel, lemon balm, licorice, and vervain during crying spells, up to 3 times a day, was more effective than a placebo. Teas made with cinnamon, fumitory, garden angelica (Angelica archangelica), and hyssop may also be helpful. Giving peppermint to infants should be avoided, since the burning action of the essential oil can cause spitting up or choking. The easiest way to use these herbs is to use herbal tea bags, available in health food stores and some food markets. Be sure to let the tea cool to room temperature before giving it to the infant.
European mothers sometimes make an herbal remedy for colic from caraway seeds. Mix a tablespoon (15 g) of caraway seed with 1 cup (240 milliliters) of hot water and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) of glycerin, and store the resulting mixture in the refrigerator. Give the baby 1/2 tsp of the mixture every time crying starts.
It is also helpful to know:
• It’s best to feed the baby when he or she cries rather than on a fixed schedule. Babies’ bodies do not have the same mechanisms to regulate energy as adults, so a baby’s cry may be caused by low blood sugar. If feeding does not help, then try other measures.
• Mothers who breastfeed colicky babies should avoid foods that may cause allergies in the child, especially cow’s milk.
• Chiropractic “finger massage,” done by a professional, sometimes relieves colic in as little as 1 treatment, and usually in 2 or 3 treatments.
• Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk the newborn will have colic.