What is colic?

One of the hardest things for new parents to cope with is an infant who cries incessantly. It can be stressful and exhausting to try to soothe a child that will not be comforted. Often when very young children cry, without needing to be fed or changed, the reason may be colic.

Colic is the name given to the pains that infants experience in their digestive systems. It usually manifests as sharp pains or cramps in the abdominal area, which are intermittent and can occur at any time of the day.

Colic is more common in bottle-fed babies than those who are breastfed by their mother. This is because some infants are sensitive to cow's milk and formula. The condition is also more common among babies who had a difficult birth. Colic does not usually commence straight after the birth. More commonly, babies will develop symptoms of colic at a few weeks old.

Infants often display the fact that they are suffering from colic pains by pulling up their legs and then stretching them back out while crying. Some infants will only have brief colicky bouts for a period of a few weeks, while others appear to suffer for hours on end over a period of months.

What can be done to ease the pains of colic?

Trapped wind can aggravate colic pain, so reducing the amount of air that a child swallows with its feed may help. For bottle-fed infants, it might be worth experimenting with smaller or bigger holes in the teat. Winding the child after feeding may reduce the colic pains following the feed.

If the baby is being breastfed, it may be of benefit for the mother to experiment by excluding certain foodstuffs from her own diet. She might try to eliminate foods that disagree with her, or which she eats in large amounts or very often.

The list could include some of the following foodstuffs: cow's milk, alcohol, tea, coffee, chocolate, spices (especially hot ones like chillies, cumin or pepper), onions, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, oranges and grapes.

When should I seek medical help for an infant with colic?

It is advisable to attend your doctor if the colic persists beyond the age of three months. You may need to seek medical help before then if the child screams inconsolably for hours, or if the colic is accompanied by any other symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation.

There are a number of medications available on prescription for the relief of colic. One is a special drop that is added to the baby’s bottle. This drop contains an enzyme that breaks down lactose, which is the natural sugar found in milk. In some cases colic can be due to an intolerance of lactose. There is also a deflatulent antacid preparation available that can also be quite helpful. Your GP can advise you if these products would be appropriate for your baby.

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