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Understanding infant colic





Taking care of a baby with colic can be challenging and stressful.  Like many parents and caregivers, you may have questions about what to do.  Read on to find answers to your questions about infant colic.


What is infant colic? 

Infant colic is often defined as crying that lasts for three hours or more per day. The crying occurs more than three days per week and continues for at least three weeks. If your baby cries for no obvious reason and nothing you do seems to offer comfort, your baby may have colic. Usually, colic starts in the first few weeks of life and can last for a few weeks or months.  For most babies, colic disappears by age 4 to 5 months.  Colicky babies are otherwise healthy and grow and develop normally.


What causes infant colic?

The cause of colic is unknown.  Some causes may include an immature digestive system, food allergies or having too much gas.  Not burping your baby properly may also contribute to colic.  However, it is still not clear why some babies have colic and others do not.  One risk factor that is known is smoking.  If you smoke during pregnancy or after delivery, or are exposed to second hand smoke, your baby is more likely to develop colic.


Does breast milk or infant formula have an effect on infant colic?

Colic occurs in both breastfed and formula-fed babies.  It is not well understood how breastfeeding or formula affects colic.  Follow the tips below for feeding your baby.

  • If you breastfeed, continue to do so. There is no reason to stop breastfeeding because your baby has colic. 
  • If you give your baby formula, there is no need to change to another formula. Soy and low lactose formula have not been shown to help reduce colic. 
  • Talk to your baby’s doctor if you think your baby has a food allergy.  If a food allergy is diagnosed, a hypoallergenic formula may help relieve the symptoms of colic.


Does changing my diet have an effect on infant colic? 

Maybe. If your baby is 6 weeks or younger and you are breastfeeding, avoiding potentially allergenic foods may help reduce colic symptoms.  These foods include: 

  • Cow’s milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Soy
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat

If you choose to remove foods from your diet, it is important to work with a registered dietitian to make sure you are not missing any nutrients.  You can start to re-introduce these foods in your diet over time if there is no improvement in your baby’s colic.


Are there any treatments that work?

Although you may have heard of many different ways to treat colic, there is little or no evidence to show that any of these options work.  The chart below describes some of the common treatments and home remedies for colic.

Treatment

What is it?

Does it work?

Gripe Water

Gripe water contains a blend of herbs and other ingredients.  Some brands also contain alcohol.  

No. Gripe water is currently not recommended for colic.  If you use gripe water, choose a brand that does not contain alcohol or sucrose.

Probiotics

Probiotics help promote the natural balance of “good” bacteria in the digestive tract.

Maybe. Some research suggests that probiotics like lactobacillus reuteri probiotic drops may help with colic in breastfed babies.  More research is needed before recommendations can be made.

Herbal teas

Teas or tea supplements made with herbs.

No. Herbal teas are not recommended and may be unsafe for babies.

Gas-relief medications (containing simethicone)

Over-the-counter medications that help relieve gas.

No. Gas-relief medications have not been found to be effective for treating colic. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before giving your baby these medications. 


The bottom line

Unfortunately there are currently no effective treatments for colic. Colic will improve on its own. If you are breastfeeding and thinking about eliminating potentially allergenic foods from your diet, contact a registered dietitian to help you plan a balanced diet.  If you smoke, try to decrease or quit smoking.    Contact your baby’s doctor if you are concerned about your baby’s crying or if you notice changes in your baby’s eating, sleeping or behaviour.  If you have any questions or concerns about feeding your baby, call EatRight Ontario to speak with a Registered Dietitian at 1-877-510-5102 or send an email.


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Food allergies and babies Breastfeeding benefits for babies Understanding infant formula

Last Update – October 9, 2016

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