does my fussy baby have colic?

as a new parent, every cry, cramp, grunt, groan and moan is a potential source of concern. this is especially true if these symptoms continue for days and weeks on end. how do you know what is normal baby noise and what should be taken more seriopusly?

 

in the early weeks it can be difficult to distinguish between simply fussiness and something more serious. after all, what can a baby do other than cry, cramp and make funny noises! the bottom line in most cases, is that in the early stages they are more or less the same thing. a trapped wind, milk not settling, etc are the common findings once you've eleiminated the obvious problems like hunger, overtired, overstimulated, etc.. colic often starts as an 'unhappy baby syndrome'. 

 

colic can progress to the point of distress. below we've outlined the classic indicators of true colic.

 

early symptoms:

  • cramping

  • moaning and groaning

  • excessive straining and pushing

  • not burping well

 

as time goes by, you often see more severe symptoms presenting.

 

later symptoms: 

  • bloated or hard abdominal area

  • crying spells which can become severe

  • frequent feeds

  • disturbed sleep

  • refluxing

 

phases of colic

 

typically we see these symptoms progressing over time:

 

phase 1

symptoms aren't yet severe and include:

  • soaning and groaning

  • fussy feeding

  • perhaps little crying spells

phase 2

the weeks go by and symptoms worsen, despite best efforts:

  • cramping is worse

  • crying can last over an hour

  • everyone's sleep is broken

  • reflux (vomiting) often starts in this phase

phase 3

in the final phase, symptoms of pain and discomfort are overwhelming:

  • crying continues for hours on end - up to 5 hours a day - even when sleeping

  • baby is in intense pain, exhausted and probably not eating well

  • mom and dad are frazzled, emotionally spent and feel powerless to to ease the suffering their little one is going through

understanding the symptoms of colic
 
moaning and groaning

 

an early sign of a colicky baby, is moaning and groaning. this is often more noticeable during their sleep but can be present when awake too. your baby simply moans and groans for long periods and may seem to be pushing, as if they're trying to relieve themselves. if this early symptom is present, particularly when they are asleep, it's likely that there's excessive gas in their digestive tract. 

 

cramping

 

cramping usually occurs when the knees are brought up to the chest but can also be seen in some babies who 'arch' backwards. a cramping baby that continues to show symptoms for more than a week is almost certainly going to develop colic.

 

cramps can be due to trapped gas pockets - either because they didn't burp well or because of excessive gas in the intestinal tract. cramps can also be due to indigestion and acid burn. 

reflux

 

baby reflux can be several things, all of which involve throwing up milk frequently. if the milk that comes up is still fairly milky and clear, and there's no real discomfort (crying), then it's likely that they simply drank too much or a burp should have come up but didn't and is now preventing the milk from settling.

 

if the milk that comes up is thick and partially digested (a bit like cottage cheese) it suggests that the blockage is a little lower down in the digestive tract. for this, you need to stimulate and release the intestinal area. in the case of formula fed babies, it may also mean that their digestive system is having difficulty processing this particular brand in which case you may need to change formula.

 

why is resolving reflux so important? 

 

if your baby suffers from reflux for a prolonged period, there's a greater likelihood of acid burning the mucosal layers of the stomach and intestines. this can result in lifelong problems of indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome and the like. more commonly, the baby is likely to have a greater chance of chest, ear and sinus infections.

 

if you have learned our burping techniques and gas 'release techniques' and are still not able to resolve reflux, you need to investigate medically for food sensitivities and hereditary issues. although much less common, there may be a problem with the valve between the stomach and the oesophagus (GERD).

 

inconsolable crying

 

prolonged crying spells are the hallmark of late stage colic. the other symptoms would not bother us nearly as much if it weren't for a screaming and inconsolable child!

 

the goal must always be to try and prevent the situation getting to this point.

what went wrong?

 

the biggest problem of all is gas and wind trapped in the immature digestive tract.

this occurs several ways:

 

  • poor burping technique

  • immature digestive tract - 'kinks' in the pipes and gas can't pass through easily

  • milk not digesting well causing excessive digestive gases

  • baby still learning how to 'push' gas out but not quite getting it right

 

 

there are many ways to sooth your baby's symptoms and equally as many remedies and medications to try. but to truly treat colic, there are 2 simple objectives:

  • you MUST learn burping techniques that get the difficult, deeper burps out

  • you MUST help to untrap intestinal gas.

 

 

these two goals are easily achievable for any parent and have the biggest impact of all. the sooner you can start to do the right things, the easier it is to break the cycle. it's nonsense that you simply have to ‘ride it out’ and wait until they are 4 or 6 months old. what a nightmare journey that would be!