Colic in Children

Colic is a temporary, harmless, self-limiting condition in children and has no definitive cure.

Mother tending to a baby having colicThere are two problems in children that come with severe, uncontrollable crying, usually at night. The first is ear pain. The second is colic. Child specialists are often woken from their sleep by mothers, who sound worried and hassled, to report that their child is crying excessively. There are many problems that are part of growing up, but one of the most innocuous yet extremely distressing is colic or gripes.

What happens during colic?

When a baby gets colic pain or spasm of the intestines, s/he starts to scream. The main symptom of colic pain is sudden onset of crying in the evening or night. The colic of babies is in fact called evening colic, though why it occurs only in the evening and night and almost never in the day is not known.

Most infants have gone through a phase of colic, where s/he gets gripping pain and screams continuously for hours together, pulling up the legs and tensing the abdomen, before eventually getting exhausted and falling into a deep sleep. During this phase, the child neither feeds nor sleeps, and there is general panic in the house. By next morning, the child is peaceful, and is seen feeding, sleeping and playing well. Even as everyone heaves a sigh of relief, the crying once again starts in the evening the next day.

Colic usually starts by the time the child is about two or three weeks old, and can go on till they are three or four months of age. More often than not, the mother, who is already tired, aching, short of rest and sleep, breaks down emotionally and starts to cry. Once the child’s episode of colic begins, relatives at home have to contend with two crying individuals.

Children with large appetites and who feed a lot are seen to be more prone to colic. It is also a common observation that all babies with colic pain usually put on weight in the first three months. It is likely that they get into the overfeeding – stomach pain – weight gain cycle.

Reasons for colic pain

The exact cause of colic pain is not known, but it has been associated with psychosocial factors, smoking in the mother, and possibly, the mother’s diet. The excessive crying leads to swallowing of large volumes of air by the child, which further increases stomach distension, resulting in more crying. This vicious cycle of crying and swallowing air is often terminated by a feed.

Studies show that infants with colic have increased gut permeability, or leakiness. One study also found that infants with colic have increased serum levels of motilin, a regulatory gut chemical, which suggests altered gut motility.

The study

According to the results of a randomised study reported in the Journal Paediatrics, excluding allergenic foods from the maternal diet of mothers, who breast-fed their children reduces symptoms of colic during the first six weeks of an infant’s life. In this study, researchers took a group of women who were exclusively breast feeding their children, and divided them into two sub-groups. They put one sub-group of mothers [the study group] on a diet, which excluded cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, and fish from their diet, while the other sub-group [control group] had mothers who consumed all these foods. The babies in both these sub-groups were breast-fed by their mothers and studied for seven days. After seven days, researchers discovered that the intensity and frequency of crying in the babies of mothers in the first sub-group [which avoided allergy producing foods] was about 25 per cent less as compared to babies in the control group. This might indicate to us the need for mothers to cut down on these foods, in order to avoid colic in their babies.

In a parallel study, involving babies whose mothers did not have breast milk, but were fed milk from outside, researchers have also discovered that among formula-fed infants with colic, use of extensively hydrolysed casein- and whey-based preparations is associated with significant improvement in colic symptoms. So if a baby on outside milk is prone to colic, it might be prudent to put him/her on formula which contains hydrolysed casein and whey.

Homoeopathy – A Solution to Infantile Colic

Few of the homoeopathic remedies which can be administered for infantile colic, but under the supervision of a trained professional homoeopath, are as follows -

  • In restless, irritable infants whose symptoms of colic are relieved by firm pressure – Colocynthis
  • Colic with difficult stool and straining. Child is irritable, worse if the breast-feeding mother eats rich food or drinks coffee or alcohol – Nux Vomica
  • For colic with teething. Indicated in excessively irritable and screaming infants who are relieved by constant holding and rocking – Chamomilla
  • Infants whose symptoms of colic are relieved with gentle pressure or by warm application on the abdomen – Mag Phos
  • Flatulent colic with a hard distended abdomen. Worse from lying down; better from passing wind. The face may be pale, and hands and feet feel cold – Carbo Veg
  • Colic in infants who cannot digest milk, who vomit and have diarrhoea – Aethusa

- By Dr VARSHA Sharma, MD [Hom]

Treatment

Though there is no definite treatment for this condition, anti-spasmodic medications may be helpful. It is to get rid of colic that “gripe water” is traditionally given to babies as soon as they are born. Carrying and rocking the child, taking the child for a ride in a vehicle, making the child prone and patting the back, giving some sugared water are some methods to get the child to stop crying.

The most important thing that the mother of a colicky child needs to remember is that this is a harmless, self-limiting condition with no definitive cure. But it can become serious if parents administer medications on their own in an effort to put the child to sleep. Many parents have been known to give sedatives or sips of brandy to the child. Likewise, many try and induce motions by inserting soap into the anal orifice. These unsupervised “home” remedies can lead to complications, and should strictly be avoided and condemned.

The mother’s state of mind is also an important determinant in making the child cranky and fussy. The mother should be counselled to keep her calm at all times, understanding that this is a temporary condition. Mothers who are extremely anxious, especially first-time mothers, have babies who are more colic. Invariably, the problem of colic is less in babies whose mothers are calm and collected.

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  • P V Vaidyanathan

    P V Vaidyanathan

    P V Vaidyanathan, MD, DCH, is a Mumbai-based paediatrician in private practice, hobbyist writer, and author of a book on childhood stress management.

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2 Responses to Colic in Children

  1. colicky baby please help

    I am seriously hoping somebody can give me some guidance here. I’m a new mom, and my little girl just won’t quit crying. She probably spends four hours per day crying her heart out, and I don’t know what I can do to help. I’ve tried warm towels, massage, and taking her for rides in the car, but absolutely nothing appears to help. My pediatrician says absolutely nothing is wrong, and it is going to pass, but I am worried, tired, and at my wits end. Has anybody actually tried Ginger? I know you aren’t supposed to use it on newborns, (my girl is eight weeks), but I don’t know what else to do. Please Help.

  2. last few days our class held a similar discussion about this topic and you show something we haven’t covered yet, thanks.

    - Kris

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