A baby may have infant colic if he or she is otherwise healthy, but cries for more than three hours a day and more than three days a week, and this persists for more than three weeks. This common condition usually starts at around the second week and peaks at around six weeks, with most cases being resolved by the time they turn four months old.
The exact cause of colic remains unknown. In infants with colic, parents may observe them fussing, crying or even screaming while simultaneously drawing their legs up to their chest, mimicking abdominal pain or discomfort. Babies may often pass gas during colicky episodes, although sometimes that may be a result of the frequent crying and swallowed air. Infant colic may occur at any time of the day, but has often been described as being worse at night when babies should be sleeping.
What to do during a crying episode
Besides making sure that the infant isn’t crying due to hunger or discomfort from a soiled diaper, parents should also ensure the baby is properly burped after a feed. Infants who are still using a cloth diaper should be checked for an open diaper pin. The infant can sometimes remain inconsolable despite these measures, but will eventually settle after a short period when they have let off sufficient steam.
Crying episodes in infant colic may not necessarily be triggered by hunger, so parents must also be aware not to end up overfeeding their children. The infant may be swaddled or gently rocked to see if the crying will settle. Soothing background music may also help relax the baby.
Diagnosing infant colic
Your doctor may spend some time asking about the nature of the crying episodes to see if the pattern fits infant colic, which can often be diagnosed with just a good history and a thorough physical examination. Parents may wish to try medications such as colic drops prescribed by the doctor after a proper medical assessment.
While infant colic is a benign diagnosis with generally good outcomes, other potentially serious conditions may need to be considered and ruled out by a medical practitioner. These include:
- Infections such as middle ear infections, urinary tract infections or meningitis
- Gastrointestinal disorders such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, intestinal obstruction, incarcerated hernias or milk protein intolerance
- Musculoskeletal disorders such as fractures, joint infections or hair tourniquets
Parents should seek medical attention if the crying episodes are accompanied with more worrying symptoms such as:
- Poor feeding
- Bloody stools
- Recent physical injury
- Any concerns about poor growth
This article first appeared in Celebrating Life Apr/May 2017 Issue
Thomson Paediatric Centre (Bukit Panjang)