The Causes of Colic
Colic is simply a term that suggests a baby in pain or discomfort. Most people will immediately think of severe cramping and crying as the hallmarks of colic. But why do babies cramp and cry?
Here are the 4 common causes or categories of colic:
Type 1 Colic – Stomach Colic – roughly 25% of cases
Imagine how milk and gas are taken into the body – through the mouth to the first stop – the stomach. Feeding and burping issues are the main culprits in stomach colic. Most commonly, mom can’t get the burps out and this leads to bloating, cramping, crying, etc. We know this because babies who have trouble burping are often colic sufferers but once they learn or are helped to burp regularly, symptoms improve dramatically. Milk flow problems, including gulping, can contribute.
Type 2 Colic – Intestinal Colic – 50%
The next and most common cause of colic symptoms is an excessive amount of gas in the baby’s intestinal tract. This can be gas that passes from the stomach through to the intestinal tract or gas that is a bi-product of the digestive process (formula that doesn’t agree?) or simply gas that gets trapped in the immature intestinal folds. Whichever, the result is cramping, bloating and discomfort. We know this is a cause of colic because of the frequent success enjoyed by the various massage and gas release techniques which stimulate gas release (farting) as well as the fact that various medications and ‘remedies’ relax the intestinal tract and bring relief.
Type 3 Colic – Muscular Colic – 15%
The next cause of colic has nothing to do with gas yet the symptoms are very similar – an uncomfortable and crying baby. This type of colic is due to muscle spasm or joint tension. It is frequently, though not necessarily, present from the very early days and is more common in caesarian deliveries, forceps deliveries, breech births, etc. This could arise either because of the babies position during pregnancy, a traumatic birth (forceps, ventouse) or perhaps no traumatic birth (caesarian babies who don’t pass through the birth canal are often a little stiff and ‘stuck’ in the fetal position). We know this ‘musculoskeletal’ type exists because of the significant number of sufferers who ultimately obtain relief through treatment from a chiropractor or baby masseur.
Type 4 Colic – Neurological Colic – 5%
And finally, there is a category of colic that just can’t be pigeon-holed and I will refer to this as neurological colic, for want of a better term (you could call it ‘Developmental Colic’ if you liked). These, often inconsolable babies, are the most challenging to treat. How could it start? Perhaps it’s simply the final stage of another form of poorly treated colic. In other words, they were only treated for symptoms and the problem eventually exhausts the baby. Because we don’t know, we assume it’s the brain and nervous system having some sort of crossed wires!
Other Causes of Colic – 5%
And finally, there are some other causes or contributing factors:
Feeding issues – over or underfeeding?
Noise – too much stimulation?
Middle ear or other infection?
Pacifiers / dummy’s?
Temperature – room and clothing?
Please watch our Do’s and Don’ts video for more on these and other possible factors.
Treatment – What Really Works?
Stomach gas will have to be relieved through better burping techniques. In our training section, we teach six active burping techniques – these are designed to try and get those deep trapped burps to come up. Colic babies often don’t burp well and simply putting them over your shoulder or hand and patting away is not going to do the trick!
Intestinal gas will need to be un-trapped and it’s passage speeded along. In our training section, we will teach you how to do this through a range of ‘colic release techniques’ or exercises that are very effective for stimulating the intestinal tract. You will need to do this regularly for a week or so to break the cycle.
Likewise, muscular colic can often be relieved through gentle stretches that can safely and easily be learned by the parent. In some cases though, professional help, usually a chiropractor for colic may be required.
Neurological colic is a special case and is an extreme version of colic when the overwhelmed baby is exhausted from broken sleep and simply can’t cope. Symptomatic relief is the initial goal.
Quick Quiz – Which Type of Colic Has Your Baby Got?
Step 1 in helping a colicky baby is not simply to give medicine and remedies but rather to try and find out what is causing pain or fretfulness. Choose the most similar situation from the 4 choices below:
A) My baby has been fussy/uncomfortable from day 1 or at least during the first week.
There is no particular time of day or night when they are unhappy.
They bodies feel quite stiff when awake and relaxed once they are asleep.
They tend to arch backward as well as cramp.
They may not enjoy being on their stomach and may not like turning their head to one side (noticable with breast feeding in that they prefer one side or the other).
Crying spells usually don’t last for more than 10-15 minutes.
B) My baby was quite happy for the first few weeks.
Fussy/uncomfortable symptoms began around 2-3 weeks.
Burping is bit of a struggle.
The fussy/uncomfortable times seem to be soon after feeding and can disturb sleep.
When they do burp well, they are less fussy and sleep better.
They may have some reflux – very watery milk
Crying spells usually don’t last for more than 10-15 minutes.
C) My baby was quite happy for the first few weeks.
Symptoms began from 3-6 weeks.
Burping is mostly successful – 75% of the time.
The fussy/uncomfortable times are fairly random and can be most noticeable toward early evening.
They are often moaning and groaning for long periods, even when they are asleep.
They tend to cramp and look like they are trying to push gas out – get red faced and hands in little fists. Their abdominal area is frequently hard and may appear bloated and distended.
They may have some reflux – thicker and possibly curdled milk
Crying spells can last for up to an hour.
D) My baby is crying for long periods of time.
This can last for hours until they are exhausted.
This prolonged crying is now happening on a daily basis..
Crying is often worst toward the end of the day but can be throughout day.
They probably had colicky symptoms for a few weeks before the severe crying began.
It could have started all of a sudden with no build up.
Remedies and medicine have little effect.
A – This sounds more like muscular colic. Try our hip and spine stretches and gentle massage techniques for a few days and see their stiff body unwind and symptoms disappear.
B – This sounds more like stomach colic. The way to treat it is to get the deeper burps out. Try our excellent routine of 6 different static and dynamic burping techniques. Relief is often instant!
C- This sounds more like intestinal colic. Our colic release techniques will show you how best to get this gas untrapped and passing out the bottom end!
D – This sounds more like neurological / developmental colic. The most extreme form of colic – focus on relieving symptoms with these ‘emergency’ methods!
None of the above sound right? Be sure to watch our Do’s and Don’ts video with common parenting errors.