Colic in infants is a common condition we see in clinic. It affects 1 in 5 babies, but it is still quite poorly understood. Colic is characterised by excessive crying, fussing or irritability without obvious cause or illness, that cannot be prevented or eased by caregivers. It occurs irrespective of breastfeeding or formula feeding in infants up to 5 months of age.
Symptoms of Colic:
A colicky infant will show signs of abdominal discomfort in which bouts of crying may last up to 3 hours or more, in which soothing the infant through cuddles is often unsuccessful.
The following signs are often related to colic in infants:
- Long periods of crying (3+ hours);
- The infant cannot be consoled through physical touch;
- Showing physical signs of discomfort:
- Pulling their legs up to suggest stomach pain;
- Frowning and reddening of the face;
- Loud stomach gurgling.
Causes of Colic:
Whilst colic is a common issue, the cause cannot be identified. There are many theories, however many babies display a different set of circumstances leading to their colic, so a clear cause has not been identified. Some theories include trapped wind, indigestion, or a sensitivity to certain proteins and sugars found in breast milk and formula milk causing irritation of the gut.
In breastfed babies, maternal diet plays a significant role specifically when it comes to sensitivities to certain proteins such as cow’s milk protein, and indigestible, slowly absorbed short-chain carbohydrates (high FODMAP foods). It can be quite overwhelming for a new parent who is dealing with a colicky baby to undergo a process of elimination with their diet to pinpoint the source of the issue. This is why we recommend working under the guidance of a qualified practitioner who can offer assistance through the elimination and reintroduction of foods.
A big factor when it comes to colic in infants is an incorrect latch, or tongue and lip tie resulting in your baby taking in too much air each time they feed. You want to make sure you consult with a breastfeeding expert who can determine if there are feeding issues.
Positioning can make a big difference too. Keeping your baby upright after a feed so gravity can help the contents get further down. You may need to hold them up using slings, baby carriers or rockers to help.
If you’re looking for support, we recommend Amberley from Maternal Instincts By Amberley. You can find her website here.
Studies indicate that babies with colic have an imbalance of good and bad pathogens in the gut. Those with colic have an abundance of enterobacteria which may result in intestinal hypersensitivity due to their endotoxins, whilst increasing gas, bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort.
Also noted was a decrease in protective and beneficial bacterial groups such as bifidobacteria or lactobaccili. Which correlates to why supplementation with the correct strain of probiotic is so effective in modulating the microbiome and decreasing the symptoms noted above.
Diagnosis of Colic:
We advise that all babies showing signs of prolonged discomfort should be seen by their GP or paediatrician. Whilst colic has no identifiable cause, it is advisable to ensure the baby is healthy despite the colic, and to rule out other possibilities such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). GORD is a condition where stomach acid moves back out of the stomach and into the oesophagus (food pipe) and can cause prolonged discomfort. You can read more about reflux in babies here.
Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, a holistic treatment plan can be formulated to ease symptoms and support the family.
How to Support Infantile Colic:
Alongside the breastfeeding caregiver making changes to their diet (see above), there are nutrients and herbal remedies that can be used to alleviate some discomfort.
Specific probiotic strains:
Research studies are available that observe specific strains to have a positive effect on reducing symptoms of colic, improving sleep, and consequently improving parents’ mood.
It is believed that specific strains of probiotics help ease symptoms of colic through their anti-inflammatory mechanisms. Studies concluded two strains in particular that eased symptoms of colic:
- Lactobacillus Ruteri: The study stated the oral administration of Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 resulted in at least a 50% reduction in crying time compared with placebo. The efficacy of probiotics to reduce colic symptoms in formula-fed infants needs further study.
- Bifidobacterium Breve: A study comparing infantile colic prescription medication simethicone with probiotic strain Bifidobacterium Breve showed that the consumption of B. breve CECT7263 was a safe and effective treatment that reduced the daily time of crying in infants diagnosed with infantile colic from the first week of the intervention and at a higher percentage than that of the medication. These results were observed in both breastfed and formula-fed infants and resulted in improved night sleep and an improvement in the parents’ mood.
- Finding relief through herbal tea: There are certain herbal teas that are carminative and anti-spasmodic that can assist infants with colic through breastmilk. Our favourite options are Chamomile, Aniseed, Caraway, Nettle and Fennel. These herbs are used to ease griping, intestinal colic and flatulence (wind). These herbs are also galactagogue herbs, so if you have an oversupply, you might want to choose other treatment options.
- Iberogast: Iberogast is a clinically proven formulation of 9 medicinal herbs used to reduce digestive symptoms. This product requires dosage advice from a qualified practitioner before use.
Important Thing to Remember – Supporting the Caregivers:
There is nothing more stressful for parents than having a baby who is experiencing long periods of discomfort.
While your child is going through this phase, you need to set up coping strategies that will support your family. These could include:
- Allocating ‘shifts’ with your partner (if available) and taking turns with looking after the baby. When it isn’t your ‘shift’ ensure you are focusing on self-care and taking time for yourself outside the home.
- Ask for help from family and friends. Even if it’s for 30 minutes so you can walk around the block to calm your body. This will help in the long run.
- Seek advice from a health care provider such as a GP, paediatrician, maternal and child health care nurse, naturopath or nutritionist for ways to support yourself during this time.
- NURSE-ON-CALL Tel. 1300 606 024 – for expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days).
If you have an infant experiencing colic and you would like guidance on how to improve their symptoms, plus access to practitioner-only probiotics. You can book a 1:1 consultation with our practitioner Mel, who can offer support.
Don’t forget to check out our podcast episode on colic – Episode 81: How to treat colic in infants with Natural Super Kids Nutritionist, Mel.