Baby Colic Symptoms and Causes

What is colic in infants?

Infantile colic, commonly referred to as baby colic, is a distressing condition that most often occurs in babies between 2 weeks to 4 months of age. The exact cause of baby colic is unknown although a myriad of contributing factors and possible causes have been identified. However, none can be attributed to every single case of baby colic.

Infantile colic can be defined as frequent episodes of inconsolable crying which lasts for more than 3 hours a day, for more than 3 days per week, for at least 3 weeks in an otherwise healthy and well-fed baby. In most cases, baby colic starts to settle around 3 months of age and very rarely does it extend beyond 6 months of age.

While baby colic is very distressing to both the infant and the parents, it has not been linked to any long termm complications. There is no reason why a colicky baby will not continue to feed, gain weight and reach all the milestones as would be expectd of a healthy infant.

Symptoms of Baby Colic

The symptoms of infantile colic are usually non-specific and a diagnosis can be made only after excluding other conditions. It is also important to verify that the baby is healthy ad thriving as the contrary may indicate a pathological causes of the symptoms below. The typical symptoms associated with baby colic may vary in severity and nature among infants, with some babies not displaying any of these symptoms except the crying epidosdes. The colicky symptoms may include :

  • Crying, which is typically described as inconsolable and for no apparent reason. It usually occurs in the evenings, often at the same time of day, and quite often after a feed, but may occur at any time. The crying is most likely to start suddenly and is usually high pitched and disturbing.
  • Stiffness of the limbs, either extended or flexed.
  • Abdominal distension (bloating) with rigidity of the abdomen upon applying pressure.
  • Flushed, red face
  • Cold feet
  • Clenched fists (hands)
  • Baby gas problems associated with belching or flatulence is common.

The symptoms may aggravate in certain conditions, such as :

  • Overfeeding the baby
  • Stress among members of the household

Causes of Infantile Colic

Both breastfed and bottle-fed babies can suffer from colic and the exact cause iis unknown. However, mothers who smoke and passive smoking by the infant may be considered as risk factors.

  • Increased levels of biochemical markers such as motilin, alpha lactalbumin and urinary 5-hydroxy-3-indole acetic acid (5-OH HIAA) have been associated with infantile colic.
  • It has been suggested that psychological stress during pregnancy may be associated with babies developing colic.
  • Aerophagia or swallowing air during prolonged episodes of crying or while feeding can cause gas in babies but whether this is the cause or effect of colic is highly debatable. Other causes of excessive gastrointestinal gas are discussed under Baby Gas.
  • Some form of gastrointestinal disturbance is likely to be the cause of colic in infants.
  • Nervous system, behavioral or psychological causes have also been suggested but more research is needed before such association can be proved conclusively.
  • Certain foods in a breastfeeding mother’s diet may result in a colicky baby.
  • Food allergy like cow’s milk allergy, intolerances like lactose intolerance or malasorption like with fructose malabsorption may be other contributin or causative factors.
  • May be associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Other causes of incessant crying are discussed under Crying Newborn Baby.

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