What Causes Colic

Colic affects one out of four infants, but what causes it, and how can one avoid it?

It's estimated that 15 to 20 percent of all babies will exhibit signs of colic. In some ways, colic is a medical mystery. It appears to be digestion-related and tends to worsen in the evening hours. Though babies suffering from this malady will cry, scream, kick, and appear totally miserable, they are generally healthy from every other standpoint. There is usually no fever, diarrhea, weight loss or other measurable symptoms. During crying spells, the baby is usually inconsolable. Colic usually peaks at the age of six weeks and has usually resolved itself by three months.

There are several theories as to causes of colic.

DEVELOPMENTAL STAGES. Since babies grow and develop rapidly in the months after birth, it's possible that bodily functions are not quite refined yet. The processes of digestion and peristalsis (the movement of food through the intestines) may simply be "out of whack." This is supported by the fact that most babies outgrow colic rather quickly.

EMOTIONAL STRESS. Stress has long been known to have an adverse effect on the digestive process. There are studies that show that first-born infants are more likely to be colicky than subsequent siblings, suggesting that the anxieties of a new mother are transferred to the baby. It does seem to be true that confident mothers are less likely to have colicky babies.

DIFFERENCES IN TEMPERAMENT. Just like adults, babies have very different temperaments and physical make-ups. Some babies that appear to have colic may simply be naturally more fussy than other babies. Others may be suffering from acid reflux (heartburn), which can result in colic.

DIET. Colicky babies do seem to digest lactose (milk sugars) more poorly than other infants. However, studies show that there is no statistical difference in the chance of developing colic between breast-fed babies and formula-fed babies. Yet there may still be a link to fussiness ¡V breast-fed babies tend to be hungry again sooner after a feeding, as their stomachs empty more quickly. With some babies, an iron-fortified formula seems to reduce the symptoms of colic. There is always the possibility of food allergies as well.

One of the most commonly used medications to treat colic is Mylicon, an over-the-counter pharmaceutical that prevents gas formation. Use this only on the advice of your pediatrician however. Sedatives and antihistamines (like Benadryl) at one time were commonly used to reduce crying, but are out-dated approaches to colic and should never be used.



Perhaps the safest of the colic remedies is the herbal approach. Chamomile has long been used around the world to settle stomachs. Other herbal remedies include ginger, catnip, and peppermint. Up to four ounces a day of herbal tea can safely be administered to infants. More than this may result in inadequate nutrition, if the baby refuses formula because his tummy has been filled by the tea.

The most holistic approach to treating colic is the lifestyle approach. Certain behaviors do tend to help prevent colic attacks. Try the following:

- Carry your baby with you during the day. Some studies have shown that babies who are carried at least three hours a day are less colicky. Other studies refute this opinion, but it is impossible to spoil an infant of under four months with too much attention.

- Respond to your baby's cries quickly. Letting an infant "cry it out" is not effective in the long run and leads to more crying.

- Don't smoke. Second hand smoke does seem to be a risk factor for colic and other early disorders (such as ear infections, colds, etc.)

- Relax. Babies pick up on your tensions and internalize them.

- Be patient. All babies outgrow colic. Remember, this too shall pass. Don't let your frustrations cause you to lash out at a defenseless infant.

- Avoid milk products. This means using a lactose-free formula, or having the mother avoid ingesting lactose if she is breast feeding her baby.

- Try more frequent burping. Colic may be related to gas. Try stopping a feeding every few minutes for burping.

- Feed more often. Babies who ingest less food more often have smoother digestive processes.

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