All babies cry, more so during their first few weeks. As a new parent, this is one of the things you need to get used to. Crying is their way of communicating their needs at a tender age. Soon enough, you’ll be able to tell if they are hungry, uncomfortable, or overstimulated. But sometimes, the crying goes on longer. Your child, then, might have colic. Read on to know more and how to deal with it.
Colic is neither a disease nor disorder. It is a catch-all term used to describe the frequent, prolonged crying of an otherwise healthy child. Episodes of colic go on for more than three hours a day, at least thrice a week, for three or more weeks1. It can be frustrating for parents to see their child in distress for no reason at all. Add to the fact that this excessive crying usually happens at night.
Colic in babies are common. According to studies, it affects five to 19% of babies11. In most cases, they normally outgrow this by the time they reach six months old. In the meantime, awareness and a lot of patience will help you get through these stressful situations. There are steps you can take to minimize the severity and occurrence of colic episodes.
How to tell if it’s colic
At this point, even experts can’t exactly pinpoint what’s truly causing colic. However, there are several theories that can explain this condition2.
Food allergies or intolerances
Developing digestive system (pain from gas)
Early form of pediatric migraine12
Recurring, prolonged crying is usually the first tell-tale sign of colic. Moreover, colicky crying is typically louder, more high-pitched, and more urgent than that of a normal one3.
Your child might have colic if he or she shows the following symptoms:
Clenched fists while crying
Curling up their legs towards their belly
Crying is intense and inconsolable
Arched back and tense abdomen
Burps a lot or passes gas more frequently
It’s important to note that these symptoms may also point to other medical conditions. Make sure that your child sees his or her healthcare provider if symptoms persist or worsen to rule out other possible illnesses causing tummy pain and discomfort.
How to help
Dealing with colic requires more management than treatment. There’s no real “cure” for it. It’s hard to see your child cry but it’s a normal part of their development and goes away over time. Learning how to understand your baby’s cry is a good step4. This helps establish better parent-child connection. Don’t panic if he or she doesn’t calm down right away. There are more ways to help soothe your baby.
Most of the time, babies cry because they’re hungry. Try to establish a pattern for feeding so your child can develop some ways of self-regulating5. But don’t force-feed him or her either, they’ll just end up crying some more. Remember to burp your child in between feedings as well. Too much air swallowed can cause pain due to gas
If food sensitivity is what’s causing the discomfort, take to your pediatrician on what diet modifications you can do for the baby’s nutrition. One way to soothe sensitive tummies is to include partially hydrolysed proteins (PHP) into your baby’s diet. PHP are smaller protein molecules derived from the protein hydrolysation process – the protein is partially broken down into smaller molecules, which are easier to digest and less allergenic as compared to regular cow’s milk10.
Use sounds and motion
Sometimes, your child just wants to be held or touched. Gently stroke your baby’s head or pat his back or chest. You can also rock him to sleep, either on a swing or in your arms as you sway from side to side. If that doesn’t work, try a change of scenery. Colic babies may respond well to a stroll or short car rides7. The sights outside can help your child relax.
During a colic episode, you may want to try to distract your child with gentle white noise like the radio or TV in the background. Play classical music or hum softly to him, too. Your child might just want to hear your voice.
Newborns have a built-in mechanism which allows them to tune out environmental stimuli8. However, it gradually disappears as they age. Experiencing different sensations all at once can overwhelm them. And to release that stress, they cry. To avoid this, make sure they’re always in a comfortable setting. For example, your child’s nursery should be devoid from harsh, bright lights and unnecessary sounds. Use a gentle, calming voice whenever you’re around your child. Swaddling, or wrapping him in a snug blanket can help tune out his environment.
Taking all these in mind, don’t forget to look after yourself as well. You might feel frustrated and helpless most of the time. It’s not easy to raise a child, let alone if he or she has colic. No matter how upset you may feel, don’t shake your baby. It can cause brain damage, blindness, and even death9. Seek help and advice from your doctor instead. It also helps if you surround yourself with good emotional support in the form of family and friends. Don’t worry, you’ve got this!
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Dr. Raymond Choy Wai Mun
MBChB (UK), Aviation Medicine (Singapore)
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