The Causes of Colic

  Parents of newborns often suffer from a certain […]

The Causes of Colic


Parents of newborns often suffer from a certain amount of sleep deprivation as new feeding and changing routines are established. But if your baby is colicky, the sleep deprivation can be considerable.

Colic is a condition whereby an infant becomes excessively fussy, crying frequently for long periods of time during the day or night. The baby often needs to be held and rocked in order to be soothed. Colic can affect infants anywhere from three weeks of age on up. Most babies improve by the third or fourth month, regardless of treatment.

Trapped gas

Theories abound about what causes colic, but the reality is that we don’t know one single cause. Fortunately, there are many tools that parents can employ to help their babies to feel better.

Some authorities feel the main problem is a slight immaturity in the nervous control of the gut that allows gas bubbles to build up in the baby’s intestine, causing pain and digestive distress. Hence, one of the most successful remedies is gentle massage to the baby’s tummy to move the gas along.

This is usually done by massaging in small circles with the tip of your finger from the lower left side of the tummy up to the bottom of the rib cage, across to the right hand side and down. Then make a large soft sweep with the flat of the hand in the opposite direction – that is, up the right side, across to the left and down. The massage is very gentle and your baby should enjoy it. You can also lay the baby on his tummy and gently rub his back.

Another way to move gas along is to ‘bicycle’ your baby’s legs back and forth up towards the tummy and back, while she is laying on her back. Applying a warm compress to the tummy can also help to relieve tummy pain and distress.

Colicky babies generally respond well to vibration. Infant rockers and swings, or a ride in the car, can be soothing. Even sitting the baby near the dryer or running the vaccum cleaner seem to help.

Allergies at play

Food allergies or sensitivities are another proposed cause of infant colic. These allergens can come through in breast milk, so eliminating them from mom’s diet can go a long way to relieving both baby and parents.

Cow’s milk is a common allergen that can trigger colic in an infant. Other triggers include wheat, soy, nuts and eggs. Foods that cause gas in adults – such as beans, garlic and cabbage – can also cause gas in breast-fed infants. Try eliminating these 

foods from your diet for one to two weeks and see how your baby responds. If he improves, try bringing the foods back one at a time to see if you can figure out which ones set off the colic.

Probiotics or healthy bacteria are showing promise for the relief of colic. The same micro-organisms that are used to produce yogurt, probiotics counteract disease- producing bacteria and reduce inflammation in the gut. Infants are not able to digest yogurt, but you can purchase infant probiotics at health food stores. You can dip your finger in the powder and let baby suck on it after she has fed or add it directly to formula if your baby is bottle fed.

If none of these solutions relieves your baby’s colic, consider taking him to see an alternative professional that deals with infants. A massage therapist can teach you baby massage. Gentle infant chiropractic treatments have been found to ease symptoms. And both craniosacral therapy and Bowen therapy can help reduce infant colic. (For more on Bowen therapy, go to

When to get help

Remember that though colic can cause your infant to cry for up to three or more hours at a time, there are generally no other serious symptoms. If your baby is inconsolable, develops a fever, vomiting and diarrhea, or has blood in his stool, a more serious condition may be developing and your baby should be seen by a health care professional.

Author: Dr. Mary Welch

Dr. Mary Welch is a naturopath and chirporactor at Circle of Life Wellness Centre in Peterborough.

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