Baby colic generally has 3 stages ranging from early fussiness to full blown crying colic:
Early Stage: In the early stage, colic symptoms classically start around 2-4 weeks. Your baby might not cry much but rather they are simply fretful and restless. They will often moan and groan in their sleep or for brief periods when awake. Cramping spells can last up to 30 minutes at a time. They often don’t burp easily after feeding or burp sporadically.
Intermediate Stage: In the intermediate stage, classically around 4-8 weeks, colic symptoms become more severe because of disturbed sleep and ongoing discomfort. Crying and cramping spells can last up to an hour at a time and appear in the early evening though not necessarily. Moaning and groaning can continue for hours, even in their sleep. The abdominal area is often hard and bloated or distended to one side. Baby often appears to be ‘pushing’ for lengthy periods and their face may look strained with hands curled up into fists
Final Stage: This is the stage which most people think of as being colic. The baby can cry for hours at a time, often in an inconsolable way. They cramp frequently and are often contracted and stiff. Sleep is disturbed as is that of the household! This stage classically arrives after several weeks of the intermediate stage. Reflux often becomes a significant symptom.
The earliest symptoms of colic are moaning and groaning. This is often more noticeable during their sleep but can be present when awake. Your baby simply moans for long periods and may seem to be pushing, as if they’re trying to relieve themselves.
If this early colic symptom is present, particularly when they are asleep, it is likely that there is excessive gas in their digestive tract. It is a good idea to make a special effort to learn better burping techniques as well as to learn how to release trapped gas in the abdominal area. This should stop the syndrome from worsening to the intermediate stage.
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 in a baby can be due to one of three things: 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. And finally, cramps could be the result of musculo-skeletal faults, either because of spinal misalignment or simply tight musculature. This type of cramping is seen more in ceasarean deliveries or forceps/ventouse deliveries (traumatic births).
Ongoing cramps might be helped temporarily with a variety of remedies (gripe water, herbal teas, etc) but it is a great idea to address the underlying causes if at all possible. This means good burping, help release trapped gas and help massage or stretch the most commonly involved muscle groups.
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 if there is no real discomfort (crying), then it is 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 (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 (you may need to change formula).
Why is resolving reflux so important?
If your baby suffers from reflux for a prolonged period, there is 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. There may be a problem with the valve between the stomach and the oesophagus, although this is uncommon.
Prolonged crying spells are the hallmark of colic. The other symptoms would not bother us nearly as much if it weren’t for a screaming and inconsolable child! The goal must be to try and prevent the situation getting to this point, but if it does, then the treatment must be symptomatic management first.
How Parents Can Help: In most cases, you are now dealing with a overwhelmed baby (neurological colic) and need to first manage symptoms. Here are a few musts:
1) Be prepared to spend lots of time holding, rocking, singing to and sleeping with your baby.
2) Find a pacifier (dummy) that helps. Experiment with different ones. Suckling can bring great relief.
3) Experiment with noise – white noise (classical music?) is soothing especially at sleep time. Try a loud ssssshhhhushing type noise near their ear. Practice your singing to them – something soothing, not rock and roll!
4) Try gripe water, telamint drops and herbal teas.
5) Be sure to try and get burps and gas out when you have a calm period. Do some massage and stretch techniques. Watch the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ video clip on our training section. A simple parenting mistake can make the biggest difference of all!
Extreme Situation: Get medication from the pediatrician if nothing works and you are not coping. This is usually a sedative (most contain alcohol) like Bennett’s or Donatol (various trade names). Be wary of trying too many medications and remedies at one time without a break in between to see what really works.
Although not directly a symptom of colic, an infant with colic that suffers for weeks on end can cause stress and tension in the parent, especially for mom. This tension can then be transferred back to the baby in a variety of intangible ways and in extreme cases, in shaken baby syndrome. This of course, does not help the situation at all.
Having a new born baby with colic, especially for a first time parent, is extremely challenging. It is important for stress management to understand the different types of colic as well as the different stages. Armed with proper knowledge (not just generic stuff you can read anywhere), the parent can now take proactive steps to treat the underlying causes themselves. This in turn helps bring down the stress level.