Baby colic is very stressful for both the baby and the new parents. Sometimes, parents end up blaming themselves as they do not know the actual triggers behind it. This article will help you understand what causes colic in babies.
In early infancy, babies usually cry when they are hungry, tired, feeling uncomfortable due to heat or cold exposure or their diaper is wet and needs to be changed. However, some of them tend to cry inconsolably without any specific reason. Basically, this fussiness is often associated with abdominal pain, cramping or any other discomfort which babies cannot express and they cry incessantly. If you are new parents and are having a tough time dealing with colic in your newborn, then let me tell you that you are not alone. In fact, 1 out of 5 babies have this problem that shows up within the first three weeks of birth.
Some common signs of colic are: swollen abdomen, curling up of the legs towards the belly, arching the back and clenching fists. Each of the crying episodes may last for a few minutes to a few hours. It recurs at least 3 days in a week. Some of them may cry for as long as 3 hours every day. It can happen at any time of the day but is more commonly found in the afternoon, evening or late at night.
Why are Some Babies Prone to Colic?
Colic is not a disease in itself. It may not even be a symptom of any underlying disease. In other words, infants with a good health condition and adequate body weight can have colic. Actually, it is not clearly known what causes colic in babies. It can occur to any baby whether boy or girl and in breastfed or formula-fed babies. Your little one may get colic symptoms due to one or more of the following reasons:
Sensitivity Towards Intestinal Gas
The gastrointestinal tract of newborns is not fully developed. It does not have all necessary enzymes that are essential for breaking down the food that they eat. Moreover, the muscles present in the walls of the digestive tract do not have that much of strength to move the food easily through the tract. These conditions slow down the digestive process and the undigested food produces plenty of gas inside the tract.
The trapped gas then triggers abdominal pain and babies cry a lot after feeding. Another reason behind bloated stomach in babies is excessive swallowing of air. When they cry for a long time, air enters through the mouth into the digestive tract and they experience gas pain.
Sensitive Central Nervous System
When the baby was inside the mother’s womb, he/she was not exposed to light and sound. After birth, they are exposed to various forms of light and sound around them which their nervous system cannot handle and they turn fussy. These babies mostly become colicky at the end of the day as they feel exhausted after prolonged exposure to different sounds and unfamiliar sight around them. These stimulants like light and sight can make their nerves taut and they cry to release that tension. Sensitive nervous system is more prevalent in premature babies and those who had difficult birth.
When the baby feeds from the same breast for a longer duration, he/she gets the milk from the back of the breast which is rich in calories. So, even a small feeding is enough to fulfill a baby’s calorie requirements. During a feeding session, changing the breast before the baby finishes one breast can lead to problems. This is because, if a small amount of milk is taken from both the breasts, then babies get milk only from the frontal part of the breast which is quite low in calories.
As a result, babies end up drinking more milk to satisfy their hunger. Then their intestine cannot digest the excess milk and it causes gas and watery bowel movements. Overactive letdown is another factor due to which breastfeeding babies may end up having too much of milk in their stomach. Here, excess milk flows into the mouth, which small babies cannot cope up with, and they swallow a lot of air. This in turn gives stomach cramps.
Infant Acid Reflux
In this condition, the stomach contents like milk and stomach acids flow back into the esophagus which the baby spits out. A valve is present at the junction of the esophagus and stomach and is known as lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that prevents liquids in the stomach from flowing back to the esophagus. As this valve muscle is weak in infants, it opens up easily if the baby drinks too much milk quickly. The acidic component irritates the lining of the esophagus and causes a lot of discomfort due to which the baby starts crying furiously.
Sensitivity Towards Food
The mother’s diet may contribute towards baby colic. There are certain foods which when consumed by the breastfeeding mother passes on to the baby through breast milk and gives rise to digestive problems. It has often been found that infants cannot digest milk proteins present in cow’s milk. Therefore, breastfeeding mothers should stay away from dairy products like, milk, cheese, yogurt, processed foods that contain milk proteins, etc., for the time being.
They should stop eating food that produces a lot of gas; for instance: vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, garlic, caffeine, alcohol, spicy food and so on. Small babies have a highly sensitive digestive system which easily gets irritated by excessive intestinal gas. Certain foods like avocado, strawberries, nuts, tomatoes, eggs, tuna, sardines, mackerel, etc., supply histamines into the mother’s milk which can cause food allergies in babies. Therefore, such food items should be avoided.
How to Manage Colic in Babies
Taking colicky babies for a walk in the open air or for a drive can release their tension and help them to settle down. However, do not give any over-the-counter medicine or try some home remedies without talking to the pediatrician. If you find it difficult to handle it when your newborn is crying too much, then you must take him/her to the doctor.
They will check out whether there is any underlying infection or any other medical problem which is bothering the baby. Similarly, if the symptoms are accompanied by vomiting, bloody stools or fever, then also the doctor should be consulted. Any existing health disorder is then treated with the help of suitable medicines.
In most cases, no such health problem is found by doctors. There is no such medicine that can reduce the fussiness of infants. Therefore, doctors may suggest some feeding techniques to the mother to facilitate proper digestion. Thus, the recurrence of symptoms can be prevented to some extent. They also provide some remedial measures for releasing the underlying tension and pacifying the baby.
It includes making the baby burp soon after feeding so that the entrapped gas is eliminated; a gentle infant massage on the baby’s back, a warm bath, etc., will help. Undoubtedly, tackling colic in newborn babies is a challenging task for any parent, but the best part is that it will go on its own in a matter of few months. Most babies do not have them after 3-5 months but in some rare cases, it may continue for 12 months.
Colic does not cause any major harm to the health of the little ones. It is not going to affect their physical health, mental health or personality in future. As parents, you should not feel upset and assume that your baby is crying so much because you are not taking good care of him/her. In this phase, the baby’s mother must keep herself calm as her anxiety can disturb the baby and aggravate the problem.