Colic pain in newborns: A nightmare for most mothers after delivery

Colic is an acute pain in the stomach or bowels; a cramping, gripping kind of abdominal pain that used to be called “the gripes.”

Colic pain has been found to be one of the main reasons for stress and anxiety in infants’ parents, most especially first-time mothers, yet there is still no specific treatment. Hence, mothers always try their level best to relieve their infants’ pain.

Researchers describe infantile colic as a behavioural syndrome characterized by excessive crying of the baby, occurring mostly, in the evenings, without any identifiable cause. Others define infantile colic based on the characteristic of crying, following the rule of 3, is the most widely used which is; episodes of excessive crying lasting more than 3 hours per day, occurring > 3 days in any week for 3 weeks, in a 2 weeks to 4 months infant, in an otherwise healthy baby.

Infantile Colic is a benign self-limited condition that resolves with time but is one of the commonest reasons of seeking medical advice in the first 3-4 months of the baby’s life. The crying begins suddenly without any clear reason and is intense and high-pitched. There may be flushing of face, postural changes like clenched fist, tense abdomen and is extremely difficult to comfort the baby during the episodes. Moreso, babies with colic are often fussy, gassy, and don’t sleep well, but in most cases, they grow and gain weight normally

Up to now, the exact causes of colic are not very clear. Approximately, 5% of babies can have an underlying organic cause which maybe either in the central nerves system, gastrointestinal tract (constipation, gastro-oesophageal reflux, lactose intolerance, intussusceptions, rectal fissure), infections, and trauma which needs to be considered during
the evaluation. Babies with infantile colic are normal in growth and development and have normal examinations. Most of these organic causes of excessive crying can be excluded by the history and physical examination and they usually do not need any laboratory tests or imaging studies. There is no long or short-term effect of infantile colic on the babies, but it can lead to child abuse, increased postpartum depression, and early cessation of breastfeeding.

Various research done has not reported any major difference in the incidence among full term or preterm infants, males, or female babies, breastfed or formula-fed infants. However, some studies have shown an increased incidence of colic in first-born children and siblings with the previous history of colicky children. Additionally, factors such as marital relationship status, parental stress, lack of parental self-confidence, and dissatisfaction with the delivery have also been found associated with higher incidence of infantile colic.

Some of the tips for helping to soothe and deal with a colicky baby include;

  • Burp your baby often to reduce the amount of air your baby swallows during feeding, burp your baby often. 
  • If your baby is bottle-fed, it may help to use a curved bottle, as this lets you hold your baby in an upright position.
  • Make sure your baby isn’t hungry, and don’t force-feed your baby if he or she isn’t interested in the bottle or breast.
  • Change your baby’s position. Sit your baby up if lying down. Let your baby face forward if you are carrying or holding your baby facing your chest. Babies like to see different views of the world.
  • Give your baby interesting things to look at: different shapes, colours, textures, and sizes.
  • Talk to your baby and sing softly to your baby.
  • Rock your baby and walk your baby around.
  • Give your baby a warm bath.
  • Place your baby in an infant swing on a slow setting.
  • Let your baby lie on his or her belly on your lap, and softly rub your baby’s back.
  • Go for a ride in the car. The motion of the car often soothes babies.
  • Try using something in your child’s room that makes a soothing sound, such as a fan, a white-noise machine, or a heartbeat CD. The sound of a vacuum or washing machine may also calm a fussy baby.
  • Hold and cuddle your baby. Babies can’t be spoiled by too much attention. But they can have problems later in life if they are ignored and their needs are not met as infants.
  • Try using a pacifier.
  • Keep any stimulation to a minimum.

Remember, what works for one baby may not work for another. 

If you breastfeed your baby, the provider may suggest that you avoid foods that are likely to cause an allergic reaction. This means that you should not have milk, eggs, nuts, or wheat for a period of time.

The author is Lilian Nuwabaine Luyima; BSc Nurse and MSN-Midwife and Women’s’ Health Specialist

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