Before commencing with any treatment for infantile colic, it is important to first confirm the diagnosis by eliminating other causes of baby colic symptoms. A thorough case history and physical examination of the infant by a pediatrician should be conducted before the diagnosis of infantile colic is reached. Parents who opt to bypass a medical professional, diagnose the infant and commence with home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) medication may be risking the health and even life of the infant should the underlying cause be linked to a serious medical disorder.
Some of the other causes of episodes of incessant crying and the various other symptoms indicative of baby colic may include :
- Severe nappy rash
- Ear infections
- Urinary tract infection
- Injury – accidental or intentional (child abuse)
- Strangulated hernia
- Intestinal obstruction
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Torsion ofthe testis
Often the crying can be linked to the basic needs of the child not being met due to incompetence or ignorance on the part of the parent or care giver. Thirst, hunger, temperature (too hot or too cold), intense stimuli (loud noise, bright light) and attention are possible causes of crying in a newborn baby.
Preventing Infantile Colic
Dealing with a colicky baby is trying on the parents and would rather be prevented. However, baby colic is a difficult condition to prevent as the exact cause is unknown. It appears to affect both breastfed and bottle fed infants.
This however, does not mean that concerned parents cannot take measures to reduce the severity of the condition and possibly avoid it altogether. Attending to the baby’s needs mentioned above in a timeous manner, taking the time to burp the baby after meals and maintaining a calm, happy and peaceful home can go a long way in possibly avoiding infantile colic.
Another factor to consider is the physical and psychological health of the parent or caregiver. Stressed, sleep deprived or ill parents are unable to meet the baby’s demands as would be expected and the frustration of the parent can create tension within the home, either at the infant, other children in the household of even among partners. Infants seem capable of sensing the discord and responding with irritability, poor eating and sleeping habits and crying.
Treatment and Remedies
The role of drugs in the treatment of colic is minimal unless there are signs of GERD. An anticholinergic drug such as dicyclomine hydrochloride, although effective in treating infantile colic, is generally not recommended because of its potential adverse side effects. Other antispasmodics like hyoscine butylbromide may offer short term relief but often become ineffective after a short period of use.
Use of simethicone, which may help to relieve baby gas problems, is usually not indicated for infantile colic. Sedatives are not to be used at all. Herbal remedies and other alternative treatments should be used with caution and only after consulting with the pediatrician.
Parents need to be reassured that although colic is distressing, it usually does not have any adverse effects or cause long term complications. It is a self-limiting condition which should pass by the age of 3 to 4 months. Overzealous parents who may move between doctors and try radical complentary therapies may be prolonging the course of the condition or even causing complications that would otherwise have never been present.
Some simple measures and home remedies that may be helpful include :
- Low-allergen, bland diet for breastfeeding mother. Dairy, wheat, nuts, soya, egg yolks and shell fish should be avoided. Bottle-fed infants should be switched over to a low allergy formula.
- Burp the baby frequently, between feeds and after each meal. While some cases of infantile colic have been attributed to excessive intestinal gas, the time and attention taken by the parent to burp the baby may also have a therapeutic effect, especially if the infant is often neglected.
- Switch to light, natural fibers which is cool to wear in warm to hot environments. Avoid woollen and itchy clothing items. Internal heating within the room may be preferable over dressing the child in thick, insulating garments. Babies have a smaller surface area to dissipate heat and are more sensitive to temperature changes and added insulation by thick clothing.
- Certain probiotics may be helpful but these should only be considered after consulting with a pediatrician. Live culture yogurt and related foods are not suitable for infants.
- Regular feeds and feeding on demand for newborns is a recommended practice. Avoid overfeeding the child and rather feed the baby more frequently than ‘stuffing’ the child with one large meal.