What is infant colic?
Infant colic is defined as prolonged and recurring periods of crying or irritability that is inconsolable or without an obvious cause. Colicky babies have a healthy sucking reflex, a good appetite and are otherwise healthy and growing well. Colic usually appears in infants between 0-5 months and after 5-6 months it will naturally fade away. However, it can have a significant impact on parental quality of life and may aggravate postnatal depression. The incidence of colic has been reported to range from 8% to 20% and represents the cause of 10-20% of all pediatrician visits in the first 4 months of life.
Colicky bouts are more frequent in the late afternoon or evening, starting suddenly and being intense and often high pitched. Colicky infants are usually very unsettled, fussy or irritable or may show signs of pain (e.g. drawing up knees or arching the back).
What are the causes of infant colic?
Causes of colic can vary from baby to baby and is independent of delivery mode and gender. Some experts think that babies persistently cry because their digestive systems are still maturing, making indigestion and wind more of an issue. Other causes include; parental anxiety, insufficient parent-to-child interaction, gas accumulation, immature gut function and alternations in the gut microbiome (dysbiosis) and gut inflammation.
Gut microbiome and colic
Many studies have shown that infants suffering with colic have an altered gut microbiome compared to non-colicky infants. Infants suffering with colic may have an increase in pathogenic bacteria within their gut which causes inflammation and production of gas, making them irritable, uncomfortable and leading to inconsolable crying. There is also a decrease in good bacteria which has a role in protection and digestion. This change in their gut bacteria can be caused by a variety of neonatal factors (mode of delivery and gestational age) and postnatal factors (feeding, geographical location, family members, host interactions, maternal diet and weaning). It was previously believed that only infants who had been born by caesarean section or bottle-fed could have infant colic however, this is not the case.
What can I do?
The persistent nature of colic means that there are likely to be times when your baby cries, no matter what you do. This means parents have to be prepared for soothing method to work well one day, but not the next. Some of the things you can do to reduce the symptoms of colic are; hold or cuddle your baby when they’re crying a lot, massage their tummy gently with clockwise movements to help move along trapped wind or poo, sit or hold your baby upright during feeding to stop them swallowing air, burp your baby after every feed, gently rock your baby over your shoulder and bath your baby in a warm bath.
Use of friendly bacteria
Another method that parents can also try is infant drops supplements containing friendly bacteria. Friendly bacteria can alter the intestinal microbiota composition, which may positively influence the symptoms in affected infants. These friendly bacteria can reduce the formation of gas, have an antimicrobial effect and release anti-inflammatory compounds which will help soothe the infant’s stomach. This can help to reduce crying time and colicky bouts.