Colic: the five-letter word that is enough to bring any parent to tears (or exhausted sobbing in the corner of a room).

It is amazing, when we are pregnant, we don’t (usually) care what the sex of the baby is, as long as the baby is healthy. Once our due date has arrived, we cross fingers for a safe delivery (whether the baby is delivered naturally or via of c-section). And then, once we are holding our precious new-borns in our arms, our next wish is ‘please don’t let them suffer from colic’.

I was fortunate enough to have two babies who were not affected by colic; however I have plenty of friends who were not as fortunate. I witnessed first-hand the toll it can have on a family. From frazzled tempers, preventable accidents and unhappy siblings to depression and an overall fatigue unlike any I have ever I have seen before. It was brutal.

Even though my children didn’t have colic I have always followed the topic with great interest. Perhaps because I am a parent or perhaps with the intention of being able to help out another friend or family member when the time comes. Either way, I found the below article written by chiropractor Dr Marinus an interesting read.

“We estimate that Colic affects 15 to 25 percent of families. I use the word families on purpose here because the effects of colic are not just limited to the baby; everybody in that household (be it mom, dad, or siblings) are, to some degree affected by the change in the family dynamic when an inconsolable baby is dropped into the mix. It is a real condition with real repercussions that unfortunately have the potential to linger on long after the crying of colic has passed. Colic is the leading cause of paediatrician visits in the first year of life.

But What Is It
Colic is defined as the ‘persistent bouts of inconsolable crying which begin out of the blue, stop just as quickly and are accompanied by physical signs of tension.These begin at around two to three weeks of age, reach their peak at six weeks and subside around three to four months. The episodes appear to be more frequent in the early evenings and last for three or more hours, for three or more consecutive days and persist for three weeks. The most interesting feature of colic however is that it is limited to healthy well-fed babies. By definition a colicky child is not sick, malnourished or in any way medically compromised. This is why it is so hard to diagnose the condition; all the tests show that baby is doing well, yet but you know differently.

Well, consider a headache – you are not sick, a scan of your brain will indicate nothing is wrong and blood tests will not pick up any viral activity, but yet you feel like death and were it socially acceptable, you would probably sit in a corner and have a little cry. Now I’m not saying that colic equates to baby migraines, but the theory is the same; just because we cannot find anything wrong with you does not mean you don’t have a headache. As adults, we know that the headache is not life-threatening, and we can pop down to the chemist or the chiropractor to deal with it. Babies have no such ability. When confronted with pain or internal stress and therefore they do the one thing they know how: scream.

Now we know why it happens but what causes it. The opinions about the causes of colic are almost never-ending but they all contain one common thread. Each one lists a cause that, no matter what it is, places an amount of stress on the baby’s internal system that he cannot deal with, resulting in daily bouts of inconsolability.

Here is a checklist for the most statistically likely underlying reasons for colic.

  • Reflux
    Especially silent reflux, when no milk exits the mouth but rather sits in the oesophagus and leaves acidic burns. If baby pulls his head away and refuses a feed, or you notice baby is unhappy when put in a horizontal position, look out for reflux. Be wary of treating reflux by adding solids to the diet too early as this may leave to constipation and allergy.
  • Lactose Intolerance
    Babies do not have the enzymes to break down this type of sugar found in dairy, leading to a build-up of gas. This may also lead to an amount of reflux, gas that smells bad and explosive nappies.
  • Overstimulation
    Babies do not have the tools to filter what goes on around them and they become easily overloaded. Warning signs of this can be gaze-aversion, restlessness and grumbling.
  • Immature Digestive System
    Especially in premature babies when the tummy is not yet ready or does not have the right bacteria to deal with processing food.
  • Neural Supply
    The digestive system is not getting the right messages from the nerves that control it, leading to cramping.

What does colic look like?
Your baby’s cry changes to a high-pitched warbling sound which is immediately distinguishable from the normal cry of attention. It is a sound that you cannot tune out and is designed to make you stop what you are doing and rush to your baby’s side.

Physical signs to look for are:
• Reddened face
• Knees flexed up to chest
• Hands rolled into tight fists
• Face looks pained
• Back arching and neck extension
• Body rigidity
• Sweating and flushed face
• Cold feed
• Breast or bottle refusal

What to do?
The first step in resolving colic is a trip to the paediatrician to rule out any underlying causes that may mimic the condition: middle ear and urinary tract infections can often resemble colic. Research shows probiotics can be useful if colicky behaviour stems from a lack of gut flora. And in my experience, gentle alignment of the spine can have the effect of regulating nerve flow to the digestive system. Maintaining a good breastfeeding diet or making sure you are on the right formula are also important, as is relying on your support system through these first months. Don’t wait for your relationship with your baby to deteriorate when there are so many places you can turn to. Postnatal classes, clinics, homeopaths, chiropractors, lactation consultants and GP are all at your disposal, as are online forums where you can build friendships with other parents who are also awake at 3am”.

Written by: Dr Marinus – Chiropractor