Dr. Mark S. Cantieri • Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine
Colic is frequent, prolonged and intense crying or fussiness in a healthy infant. Colic can be particularly frustrating for parents because the baby's distress occurs for no apparent reason and no amount of consoling seems to bring any relief. These episodes often occur in the evening, when parents themselves are often tired.
Episodes of colic usually peak when an infant is about 6 weeks old and decline significantly after 3 to 4 months of age. While the excessive crying will resolve with time, managing colic adds significant stress to caring for your newborn child. You can take steps that may lessen the severity and duration of colic episodes, alleviate your own stress and bolster confidence in your parent-child connection.
Symptoms of Colic
Fussing and crying are normal for infants, especially during the first three months. And the range for what is normal crying is difficult to pin down. In general, colic is defined as crying for three or more hours a day, three or more days a week, for three or more weeks.
Symptoms of colic may include:
Intense crying that may seem more like screaming or an expression of pain
Crying for no apparent reason, unlike crying to express hunger or the need for a diaper change
Extreme fussiness even after crying has diminished
Predictable timing, with episodes often occurring in the evening
Facial discoloring, such as reddening of the face or paler skin around the mouth
Bodily tension, such as pulled up or stiffened legs, stiffened arms, clenched fists, arched back, or tense abdomen
Sometimes there is relief in symptoms after the infant passes gas or has a bowel movement. Gas is likely the result of swallowed air during prolonged crying.
When to see a doctor
Excessive, inconsolable crying may be colic or an indication of an illness or condition that causes pain or discomfort. Schedule an appointment with your child's doctor for a thorough exam if your infant experiences excessive crying or other signs or symptoms of colic.
Causes of Colic
The cause of colic is unknown. It may result from numerous contributing factors. While a number of causes have been explored, it's difficult for researchers to account for all the important features, such as why it usually begins late in the first month of life, how it varies among infants, why it happens at certain times of day and why it resolves on its own in time.
Possible contributing factors that have been explored include:
Digestive system that isn't fully developed
Imbalance of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract
Food allergies or intolerances
Overfeeding, underfeeding or infrequent burping
Early form of childhood migraine
Family stress or anxiety
Risk factors of Colic
Risk factors for colic are not well-understood. Research has not shown differences in risk when the following factors were considered:
Sex of the child
Preterm and full-term pregnancies
Formula-fed and breast-fed babies
Infants born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy or after delivery have an increased risk of developing colic.
Colic does not cause short-term or long-term medical problems for a child.
Colic is stressful for parents. Research has shown an association between colic and the following problems with parent well-being:
Increased risk of postpartum depression in mothers
Early cessation of breast-feeding
Feelings of guilt, exhaustion, helplessness or anger
Osteopathic Manipulation for Colic
Mothers often describe the infant with colic as feeling rigid and tense while they are being fed. Many of these infants have abnormal musculoskeletal tone and abnormal cranial movement. They can have tension from the base of the skull all the way to the feet and ankles.
An experienced osteopathic physician with expertise in osteopathic manipulation can assess the movement of the child’s joints and tissues as well as their cranial movement. Utilizing gentle osteopathic manipulative techniques these can be normalized and many infants with colic can be helped.