Newswise — Newborns cry.
It’s their way of letting you know when they are tired, or hungry, or need a new diaper.
Those periods of intense, prolonged crying, however, can cause panic and tension if you’re a parent or caregiver—because of the unknown.
This excessive crying, called infantile colic, goes away on its own over time. It is a common, benign condition in which otherwise healthy babies cry inconsolably—for no apparent reason—for more than three hours per day, more than three days a week, for the first three months of life.
“It’s a very stressful period of time. The mothers, and sometimes even the spouses or caregivers, they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet,” says Christina L. Shuja, NP-C, a certified nurse practitioner for LifeBridge Health’s Center for Happier Infants (CHI) program.
It can negatively affect maternal self-esteem, marital relations and mother-baby bonding.
“The mother can get frustrated and feel like it’s her fault, though in essence it is a normal thing that’s happening,” Shuja says.
Colic can even lead to infant abuse in some cases.
Why it happens
The exact cause of infantile colic isn’t known. But possible contributing factors include:
- sensitive or still-developing digestive and nervous systems
- food intolerances
- oversensitivity or overstimulation
- overfeeding or underfeeding
Infants whose mothers smoked during pregnancy may be at higher risk for colic.
In addition to intense and excessive crying, you may notice bodily tension from your baby such as clenched fists, an arched back, or pulled up or stiffened legs. Your baby may also have a red, flushed face when crying.
How it’s treated and what you can do
The first thing to do is take your baby to a pediatrician for a formal diagnosis and to rule out other possible conditions. New parents in particular need the reassurance. “Especially if it’s a first-time mother, they may think, ‘My baby is in pain and there is something seriously wrong,’ but in fact it may be colic,” she says.
While there is no cure for infantile colic, there are ways to manage its symptoms. Over-the-counter anti-gas medications such as simethicone are often recommended for intestinal gas. Gripe water and probiotics are also options. Techniques like frequent burping during feedings and bicycle movements with the legs can also help babies with excessive gas.
“In general, the best strategy is to stay two steps ahead. For example, if your baby is still irritable after the diaper change, plan for burping and a warm bath. It’s also important to not blame yourself if nothing helps,” Shuja says.
CHI helps babies with colic
The CHI program—with a comprehensive, multidisciplinary team that includes an onsite nurse practitioner, nurses and dietician—looks to not only treat the baby, but assess the whole family in offering:
- detailed examination and evaluation of infants
- evidence-based recommendations
- same-day, in-clinic consultations with a dietitian
- parental and family support and counseling
- access to local social workers, lactation support groups, certified lactation consultants and speech therapists
- follow-up checks
“We’re not doing expensive tests or surgeries, but we are providing a family-centered plan of care, evidence-based recommendations and reassurance,” Shuja says. “It’s really a simplified, but effective approach.”
Shuja says that while pediatricians are experienced in recognizing infantile colic, “they may not have all the resources that the CHI program can provide.” “Families will need extra support and reassurance,” she says.
Part of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai, CHI also offers postpartum depression screening and consultation for families. “There’s such a difference between families when they come in on day one and when they come in on the follow-up in two or three months. Their shoulders are just lifted,” Shuja says.