What causes infant colic?

What causes infant colic?

Any parent or relative of a colic baby can tell you what infant colic looks like: constant crying for hours and a swollen belly from gas.  "True colic" is characterized by a horribly uncomfortable baby, who can't stop crying in the late afternoon or early evening between three weeks and four months of age.  When it's at different times each day or at other ages, the fussiness can be a baby responding to 

  • Overfeeding
  • Underfeeding 
  • Milk allergy
  • Infection 
  • Intestinal issues
  • Metabolic problems 
  • Problems in their nervous system

Possible Causes

You could be overfeeding or underfeeding your baby.  If you're breastfeeding, that can be hard to recognize.  The number of wet or dirty diapers could give you a clue.  You can also get a sense of overfeeding if the baby is spitting a lot while still gaining weight.  But you may need your pediatrician's help in sorting that out or guiding you in case something in your diet is contributing to the gas or discomfort. 

If you are formula feeding, the baby could be sensitive to the protein or the sugar in the formula. Switching formulas can help you find which one your baby can digest best. Or,  you might just need to cut down on how often or how much you are feeding the baby, especially if your baby spits up.

Possible Answers

Babies who are uncomfortable often do well on a formula where a portion of the cow's milk is digested to improve their tolerance. These are called partial hydrolysates. The most cost-sensitive partial hydrolysates are Gerber Good Start or Enfamil Gentlease or one of the store brands that copies those formulas.  

As a bonus, Good Start Soothe also includes a probiotic, Lactobacillus (L) reuteri, that's known to help colic. Enfamil Gentlease has another well-respected probiotic, LGG  ( Plus, both formulas also have good levels of DHA for brain growth). 

Moms who are breastfeeding can also get the benefits of the L reuteri  with Biogaia or Gerber Soothe drops to improve their babies' intestinal bacterial population and to lessen crying. Just 5 drops daily has been shown to decrease fussiness and irritability over the first 5 months of age.  There are other probiotics on the shelves, but they most don't have the research behind them to prove they work.   

Soy formula or complete hydrolysates become a real alternative if milk allergy is suspected because of severe eczema, or vomiting. If allergy symptoms of a rash or forceful vomiting occur, partial hydrolysates won't help. The protein needs to be completely broken into smaller fragments–that's what's in a complete hydrolysate.

Gripe water, simethicone to diminish gas, or an antacid, may provide a little relief, but anything stronger may merely create a drowsy baby instead of a well one. Other medicines rarely help. 

Also know that your baby can often sense your tension if you are pacing the floor or vigorously rocking them.  Your own relaxation is important.  Pay attention to your own health, energy and emotions so that you can be at your best in order to take care of your baby during this frustrating period.