It can be a challenge to know the difference between normal fussiness and identifying a baby have colic and its inevitable pain.
Colic is a condition that causes an infant to cry for more than 3 hours a day, at least every day, for more than 3 weeks.
If your baby has been crying excessively but doesn’t have other symptoms of colic such as stomach pain or excessive drooling, you may not need further evaluation.
It’s important to note that there are many things outside of colic that could cause an infant to cry; things as hunger, tiredness, or gas.
You should consult with your pediatrician if you’re concerned about the cause of your baby’s excessive crying and they do not meet all criteria for colic.
What kind of crying is colic?
Colic has some unique features that can help you tell whether your baby has it. It’s more than just fretful, cranky, or fussy behavior. Some things to watch for are:
- Long periods of inconsolable crying. It usually starts in the evening, between 6 P.M. and 10 P.M., peaks at 2 to 3 hours after feeding, then eases up until it begins again at nightfall or later in the day. The average baby cries about two hours a day; for a colicky baby, the total can be up to five or six hours.
- The crying is usually more intense than in an ordinary fussy spell. And it lasts longer – sometimes for several hours. During this time, the baby will not calm down when he’s held, rocked, fed or changed. He may even be more upset by all the attention.
- The baby’s temperament may change during an episode of colic. Before he cries, he may be more relaxed than usual. But once the crying starts, his body tenses up. Usually, the contractions are strong enough to make his little fists clench and unclench repeatedly. You can see these movements if you place a hand gently on his tummy.
- The baby may have pulled up and stiffening of the legs during a spell of colicky screaming. In most babies, this is an early sign that he’s about to cry. You can often stop the crying by holding him firmly but gently in your arms until the tension passes off.
How can I tell if my baby has colic?
A few babies are just born irritable, and their fretfulness may be hard to distinguish from renal colic. It’s sometimes difficult for parents to know when they should call the doctor about a crying problem.
Most pediatricians say you should contact them whenever your child is unhappy most of the time or when you are very worried about them.
Every baby cries, but the sound is usually different in a child with colic. They often have difficulty taking in enough air to make their belly tight and firm like other babies’.
Instead of yelling, they make little grunting or squeaking noises as they strain to get enough air. Their face may turn red or purple, and their nose may get stuffy.
This makes them sound as if they are straining when they exhale.
For some reason that researchers don’t understand, colicky babies are often more relaxed between episodes of crying than other infants.
After a bout of colic, they’re likely to behave as if nothing happened; after a normal cry, they’re likely to be clingy and whiny.
What causes colic?
Researchers are hard at work trying to find out what causes colicky behavior. They know that it’s not anything you did or didn’t do during pregnancy or after the baby was born, because most babies with colic are healthy – just irritable.
Some researchers believe that colic is caused by an immature part of the baby’s brain that helps him handle stress and feel pain.
This area is called the “limbic system” and is responsible for letting an infant know when something causes him pain or discomfort.
What is the limbic system?
A limbic system is a group of structures in the brain that are responsible for our emotions, memories, and other functions.
The limbic system is made up of parts like the hypothalamus which regulates your body temperature and hunger, the amygdala which controls fear responses, and the hippocampus which helps with memory.
The limbic system matures slowly over the first year after birth, so some babies may not develop the ability to handle stress and pain efficiently until they’re older. Others may have a nervous system that’s very sensitive right from birth.
When does colic get worse?
Colic often gets worse in the evening, so some researchers believe it has something to do with an overload of stimulation during the day or a type of hunger brought on by eating too much.
The best way to avoid making colic worse is to make sure you are giving your baby plenty of time for rest and relaxation during the day.
Colic is the term used to describe abdominal pain that occurs without any known cause or explanation.
The crying episodes typically happen during the evening and last for more than three hours at a time.
Some other symptoms associated with colic include:
- discomfort in bending, twisting, moving around
- excessive drooling
- spitting up after feedings
- fussiness between feeds (in babies who are already fed)
- increased bowel movements (diarrhea)
If you suspect your baby might be experiencing colic-related symptoms, talk to their pediatrician about how best to address these issues.
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