What Is Colic?

Nothing can be more nerve wracking for parents than a baby with colic.

At first babies may seem like they are fussing; however, when babies 5 months old or less cry intensely and uncontrollably for more than 3 consecutive hours for at least 3 times a week for at least 3 weeks with no apparent reason and without any relief, this is considered colic.

Colicky babies may pull up their legs up close, kicking frequently and making tight fists.

Their tummies may seem hard and distended, they will pass a lot of gas, burb frequently, endure hiccups, spit up often, be restless and extremely fussy.

Their crying sounds like they are in great pain and, undoubtedly, very uncomfortable.

Typically, colicky babies can get fussy at the end of the day or in the evening and usually around the same time every day.

What Your Doctor May Tell You About Colic

Your baby’s pediatrician may tell you that colic:

  • Is not really understood very well as to the exact cause
  • Will probably go away in 3 or 4 months
  • Would be the same, whether the baby is bottle fed or breast fed
  • May be caused by an immature digestive system’s muscles that spasm
  • Can cause painful intestinal gas
  • Can be caused by hormones that cause stomach pain or a cranky mood
  • May be due to an emotional reaction to fear, frustration or excitement
  • May be due to an underdeveloped nervous system
  • May be due to being hungry or feeling full
  • May be caused by your baby swallowing air, especially when feeding
  • Is common in all babies and that you may want to consider acid-lowering medication
  • May stem from a need for comforting from oversensitivity or overstimulation to sounds, lights and noise, especially during the day
  • Is unrelated to infant gas, according to medical researchers
  • May be due to an infection
  • May be due to crying, which can cause babies to gulp air into their digestive systems which gets trapped in the stomach or gets passed on to the intestines, causing gas pains

Your pediatrician will likely want to know if your baby is eating well and gaining weight and if their stools are normal or if your baby is having diarrhea, constipation or a fever.

The doctor may talk to you about the foods you are eating if you are breastfeeding your baby.

He may suggest an anti-foaming agent, called simethicone, to reduce gas and bubbles in the intestines.

Your doctor may not tell you simethicone will work on gas near the top of the stomach but has no effect on the baby’s intestinal gas.

Your doctor may also inform you that colic usually disappears around 4 to 6 months of age, and that you should try to take care of yourself and give yourself a break periodically.

Another Way to Think About Colic

Altered Microbiome

An altered microbiome, otherwise known as gut dysbiosis, is a common cause of colic.

An imbalance of “good” versus “bad” bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites can be caused by:

  • Maternal inheritance, especially if the mother has ever received antibiotics as well as an antibiotic drip during labor
  • Caesarean delivery
  • Antibiotics
  • Not being breastfed

Gut dysbiosis can cause symptoms such as:

  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain due to gas and bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Malabsorption
  • Clostrium difficile infection
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Enterocolitis
  • Failure to thrive
  • Helicobacter pylori infection
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Vomiting
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Intestinal pathogens
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Lymphoid hyperplasia
  • Intestinal permeability
  • Intestinal inflammation
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Food allergies such as gluten and casein intolerance
  • Food selectivity
  • Narrow food preferences
  • Specific food/texture preferences

Many of these symptoms of gastrointestinal distress in babies can be lumped together and called “colic”.

There is a close association in infants between colic and gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Stomach acids can back-up into the baby’s esophagus causing painful reflux, burning, spit-up, poor sleep and constant crying.

A sensitivity or intolerance to protein in cow’s milk is a common cause of GERD; therefore, if your child is bottle-fed, choose a milk substitute as your child’s formula.

If your child is breast-fed, eliminate all dairy sources and follow a more alkaline diet, eliminating acidic foods.

Gastrointestinal Immaturity

Gastrointestinal immaturity can be another reason for colic.

The introduction of solid foods in older babies may take some time for the gastrointestinal system to get used to different enzymes and proteins as well as having the ability to absorb them.

This could trigger temporary intestinal disturbances until the baby’s gastrointestinal system has matured.

Avoid giving baby gassy foods and follow a healthier diet, give probiotics to both yourself and your baby, and wait a little longer to feed your baby solid foods.

Link to Asthma, Allergies and Autoimmune Disorders

Medical research shows that moms and babies with an altered microbiome are more likely to develop autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.

Because babies with an altered microbiome are more likely to have signs of intestinal distress, it stands to reason that a colicky baby is more likely to develop these disorders.

Roughly 70% of the body’s immune system is located in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

If the GI tract isn’t functioning properly, then it’s likely that disorders of the immune system will follow.

Neurological Immaturity

Neurological immaturity can also result in colic: An immature nervous system may cause babies to cry excessively because they cannot handle the stresses of their environment due to too much stimuli and everyday living.

This sensory overload maybe addressed by some calming and soothing strategies (see below).

Along with an immature nervous system is the immature gut – the second nervous system called the :enteric nervous system”.

The gut is our “second brain”, even though it works separately from the brain; it communicates through the vagus nerve.

Research has shown that even when the vagus nerve is severed, the gut continues to function; however, if the nervous system is immature, so is the enteric nervous system.

Both systems need time to mature.

Baby’s colicky symptoms and intestinal distress are simply from having a difficult time digesting food resulting in gas, pain and crying.

Therefore, both the nervous system and the enteric nervous system need to mature to avoid colic symptoms.

Following healthy dietary suggestions (see suggestions below) and interventions will help keep the gastrointestinal system functioning better while both nervous systems mature.

Link to Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Research confirms that “especially late onset and long duration of an infant crying (colic) may be a risk factor for developing autism”.

An altered microbiome may be one of the causes of an association between infantile colic and neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism and ADHD.

Peer-reviewed medical research studies (see References below) show the importance of both the mother’s and the baby’s microbiome in establishing good gut health, and thus good neurological health.

When the gut is in distress, the brain does not function properly, and the gut/brain connection needs attention.

Transient Lactase Deficiency (TLD)

Transient Lactase Deficiency is a recently understood contributor to colic.

Research has shown that 38% of infant colic cases are related to temporary insufficiency of lactase enzyme that digests that lactose sugar in breast milk or cow’s milk formula.

If eliminating cow’s milk from the baby’s diet does not improve the situation, then the cause is usually TLD.

The undigested sugar will ferment and create lactic acid and hydrogen gas, triggering colicky symptoms.

By four months of age, the infant should be producing more lactase enzymes, but in the meantime adding lactase digestive enzyme drops to breast milk or formula may help.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Studies have shown that nicotine replacement therapy in utero exposes baby to nicotine, smoking, or both, and may result in infantile colic in offspring.

Choose not to smoke for your health and your baby’s.

Childhood Migraines

Studies show the association between childhood migraine and infantile colic.

Gastrointestinal symptoms in babies may lead to childhood migraines.

Implementing suggestions for dietary changes, adding probiotics and following a healthy environmental lifestyle may improve gastrointestinal functioning in babies and prevent childhood migraines.

A nursing mother’s anxiety, depression (post-partum), distress and emotional problems may contribute to colic.

Colic Checklist to Start

Breastfed babies:

Breast milk contains the natural sleep hormone called melatonin which may improve not only sleep, but reduce colic in breastfed infants as compared to bottle-fed infants.

Nursing babies may require to be fed every 2 to 3 hours, and it’s important to elevate their heads during and after the feedings so that they can easily release the gas from their tummies.

Infant babies have immature digestive systems that are very delicate and sensitive, leaving babies predisposed to more gastrointestinal issues.

It is very common for reoccurring gas to get trapped in the gastrointestinal system in infants; this is one of the main causes of colic.

Breastfeeding moms need to avoid certain foods that may create gas and intestinal distress in their babies as babies often react to their mother’s diet.

Steamed or cooked vegetables are better for the nursing mom; keep your diet more alkaline and less acidic.

In addition, food sensitivities and intolerances, which are different from food allergies, are common triggers for colic.

Here is a list of foods for nursing moms to avoid if you have a colicky baby:

  • Caffeine
  • All dairy products
  • Citrus fruits
  • Gluten
  • Peanuts
  • Chocolate
  • Peas
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas
  • Tomatoes
  • Nuts
  • Corn
  • Soy products
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as onions, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.
  • Spicy foods
  • Beans and other legumes

Hyper-lactation syndrome, an overabundant supply of breast milk, can also be a reason for baby’s gassiness, fussiness, spit-up after feedings and green stools.

Hyper-lactation syndrome is due to foremilk/hindmilk imbalances. The following suggestions may help alleviate the problem:

  • Express extra milk and save it for another time
  • Put cabbage leaves in your nursing bra
  • Use cool washcloths on your breasts
  • Try block feedings, which are feeding from one breast for a period of hours
  • Try “dangle” feedings to drain breasts efficiently

Bottle-fed babies:

Bottle-fed babies may also experience gastrointestinal distress due to milk-protein sensitivities or intolerances to the milk formula they are drinking.

Consult with your baby’s pediatrician about formula alternatives such as goat’s milk, coconut-based milks and possibly predigested milk protein formula that are not iron-fortified.

A lighter formula is much easier on the stomach and may stop bottle-fed babies from reacting.

Bottle-fed babies should be fed in a sitting position constantly massaging or gently tapping the back to release the gas bubbles.

It’s important to burp your baby after every one or two ounces of formula.

Bottles for pumped milk or formula:

Beware of bottles… if you pump and put expressed milk in bottles, some bottles allow for extra air flow to get in, which in turn goes into your baby.

Some nipples are way too big, causing the baby to eat too fast taking in too much air, and other nipples are too small, causing the baby to gulp for air.

Hence, the nipple needs to be just right.

Look for bottles that cause the least amount of gas. The best anti-colic bottles are:

  • Tommee Tippee
  • MAM brands (Dr. Brown’s)

Eat a protein-rich maternal diet (for the breastfeeding mother):

Further research has been done on the role of a protein-rich maternal diet and infantile colic.

The study concluded that a protein-rich maternal diet, grapes, lemons and potatoes may protect infants from colic.

Nursing moms need to make sure they are eating adequate protein (for two) so that their milk is nourishing and satisfying for the baby.

Protein is calming to the nervous system, stabilizes blood sugar and helps sustain baby longer between feedings, which likely means less gas or hunger.

Make dietary changes (for the breastfeeding mother):

  • Eat whole foods
  • Buy organic foods
  • Remove all GMO foods
  • Remove all fast and processed foods
  • Remove all foods with:
    • Artificial colors
    • Artificial ingredients
    • Preservatives
    • Phenols
    • Salicylates
  • With an elimination diet, remove potentially inflammatory foods such as:
    • Casein
    • Gluten
    • Soy
    • Corn
    • Eggs
    • Fish
    • Shellfish
    • Nuts
    • Peanuts
  • Strictly limit:
    • Sugars
    • Refined salt
    • Refined carbohydrates
  • Consider implementing the Feingold diet

Include plenty of good quality fats (for the breastfeeding mother), such as:

  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Wild salmon
  • Organic chicken
  • Organic turkey
  • Grass-fed ghee
  • Essential fatty acids from:
    • Cod liver oil
    • Hemp seeds
    • Flax seeds
    • Evening primrose oil
    • Borage oil
    • Walnut oil
    • Krill oil

Remove vegetable oils (for the breastfeeding mother) such as:

  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Safflower
  • Sunflower

Heal the gut (for the breastfeeding mother) with special diets that focus on removing grains and reducing sugars, fructose and starchy carbohydrates, such as:

Learn more about healing diets and foods

Add fermented foods (for the breastfeeding mother) and probiotics (for mom and baby) daily:

These will keep the gastrointestinal system and microbiome healthy and strong which in turn will keep the immune system strong.

  • Eat kefir yogurts
  • Eat fermented vegetables
  • Eat umeboshi plums (very alkalizing)
  • Eat miso soup, if soy is tolerated

Infant probiotics aid in the digestion process and eliminate intestinal gas, acid reflux and bloating by providing good intestinal bacteria to support the microbiome.

Good bacteria in the microbiome will correct the bacterial imbalance.

A study published in Pediatrics in 2007 found that colicky infants who took Lactobacillus reuteri protectis, a strain found in BioGaia probiotic drops, saw lessening of colicky symptoms within a week.

Culturelle For Babies and Reuteri by Nature’s Way are two other good probiotics for babies.

Some good probiotics for the breastfeeding mother are:

  • VSL#3
  • Gut Pro
  • Dr. Ohirra’s Live Cultured Probiotics
  • Garden of Life
  • Culturelle
  • Klaire Labs

Use digestive aids (for the breastfeeding mother) with your practitioner’s guidance:

Digestive enzymes for the nursing mother can assist in reducing food sensitivities and intolerances in the baby:

  • Betaine hydrochloric acid (HCl) for low stomach acid (with meals)
  • Digestive enzymes with DPP-IV for gluten and casein intolerances (with meals)
  • Proteolytic enzymes (on an empty stomach)
  • BiCarb (on an empty stomach)
  • Bromelain (with meals)
  • Papaya (with meals)

Use gripe water:

Gripe water can be a mother’s lifesaver! It elieves gas, bloating, colic and upset tummy and can also help baby sleep:

  • Gripe Water by Mommy Bliss both daytime and nighttime formula
  • Colic Calm homeopathic gripe water

Explore ways to calm and soothe your baby:

  • Hold your baby across your arm or lap while massaging his or her back
  • Try different positions to see what your baby likes
  • Make sure your baby is not hot, cold, uncomfortable, hungry or needs a diaper change
  • Hold your baby upright if they have intestinal gas and burp often
  • Try the “colic carry” or the “football hold”:  Place your baby chest down on your extended forearm and with their head supported by your hand and their legs on either side of your elbow. Use your other hand to provide additional support and walk around with your baby.
  • Use an Ergo Baby Carrier, which is a comfortable baby carrier to keep your baby close and constantly moving
  • Move baby’s legs in a circular bicycle motion to pump their legs and release the gas and get baby moving
  • Rock your baby in your arms or use an infant swing
  • Hold your baby with skin-to-skin contact; babies love this!
  • Swaddle your baby after a warm bath. Buy a sleep sack
  • Use a hot (warm) water bottle on baby’s belly
  • Sing to your baby or play soft music
  • Put baby in a dim quiet room with no sensory overload
  • Diffuse lavender, lemon balm or peppermint essential oils
  • Give an abdominal massage (light pressure on the tummy) to your baby to help release the uncomfortable gas
  • Use Young Living’s Gentle Baby: Put two drops in a coconut carrier oil and rub on the bottom of baby’s feet; this oil may be diffused as well
  • Use Young Living’s Digize (8 digestive oils): This blend can be diluted with coconut oil and massaged gently over baby’s stomach
  • Gently squeeze the acupressure point between the baby’s thumb and finger (on the webbing) to help calm the baby
  • Try whispering “shhh” in baby’s ear holding them close and rocking them back and forth. Babies love the shushing sound because it reminds them of when they were in the womb. The sound of the womb is very soothing to them, and this sound has been used for centuries to calm babies down.
  • Play a white noise such as fans, crib mobile, vacuum cleaner, washing machine, dishwasher or sounds of rainfall.
  • Use a My Baby Sound Spa Lullabye Sound Machine and Projector – get a portable one for the car as well!
  • Try a baby pacifier
  • Take a walk outside with the baby in the stroller or baby carrier. Fresh air is so helpful, even when it’s cold; just be sure to bundle them up.
  • Go for a drive with the baby in the car seat. Babies love moving vehicles.
  • Try a bath in Epsom salts and/or Dead Sea Salts to get some magnesium transdermally into your baby. Magnesium lowers anxiety and can relieve constipation.

Use homeopathy for colicky babies:

Viburcol, a proprietary homeopathic medicine often used in Europe, can be very effective for acute colic. It contains chamomilla, belladonna, dulcamara, plantago major, pulsatilla, and calcium carbonicum Hahnemanni in homeopathic dilutions.

Other homeopathic remedies to try are:

  • Aethusa: For infants who cannot digest milk, who vomit, and have diarrhea.
  • Belladonna: For colic with spasms that come and go quickly. The abdomen may feel warm to the touch and symptoms may coincide with constipation. Bending forward may relieve pain.
  • Bryonia: For pain worsened by movement and pressure. This remedy is most appropriate for irritable infants who lie still with knees drawn up.
  • Carbo vegetabilis: For colic with a distended abdomen and burping or belching. The face may be pale, and hands and feet feel cold.
  • Chamomilla: For excessively irritable and screaming infants who are relieved by constant holding and rocking. Infants for whom this remedy is appropriate are often teething and have green, foul-smelling diarrhea.
  • Colocynthis: For restless, irritable infants whose symptoms of colic are relieved by firm pressure. In these infants, diarrhea and pain may occur after eating fruit. Infant tends to bring knees up to their abdomen.
  • Lycopodium: For infants who cannot stand pressure on the abdomen (even diapers must be worn loosely). Symptoms tend to worsen between 4 and 8 p.m., and then again after midnight.
  • Mag phos: (cell salt) For infants whose symptoms of colic are relieved with gentle pressure or warmth applied to the abdomen, or while they are bent over. Belching does not relieve pain.
  • Natrum phos: (cell salt) For colic with no other distinguishing symptoms.
  • Nux vomica: For colic that occurs when a breastfeeding mother eats rich food, drinks alcohol, or coffee. The infant may arch its back and appear angry.
  • Pulsatilla: For infants with bloated abdomens after eating, and constipation alternating with diarrhea. May be aggravated by warm rooms, heat, or if the diet of the breastfeeding mother includes fruits, fats, pastries, or ice cream. Relieved by rocking.

Use herbal solutions for colicky babies (check with your pediatrician):

Herbs are a very good way to strengthen and tone the organs and calm the nervous system.

Breastfeeding moms may use herbal teas but most herbal tinctures have an alcohol content and should not be given to babies unless directed by your pediatrician.

However, some non-alcoholic tinctures can be found that are made in water or glycerin, vinegar or honey base.

  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): Fennel tea is a traditional remedy for colic because it helps eliminate intestinal gas and relaxes the gastrointestinal system. It is helpful if breastfeeding mothers drink this tea or fennel essential oil
  • Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva): Helps soothe the digestive system and can be used as a tea. You can also combine the powdered bark with water and make a slippery elm “gruel,” similar in texture to instant oatmeal. Check with your child’s pediatrician first before using slippery elm gruel in your child’s diet.
  • Herbs like chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) (do not use chamomile if your baby is allergic to chamomile) calm the nervous system and can also be used as a tea
  • Other herbs that may help calm the baby or reduce gas include:
    • Linden (Tilia cordata)
    • Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
    • Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
    • Dill (Anethum graveolens)

Consult with a lactation specialist:

Your baby may be irritable because he or she is not able to latch on correctly and thus isn’t able to feed properly.

If this is the case, your baby may have a tongue tie, which can cause problems with proper thrusting of the tongue, closure of the mouth and sucking.

You may also want to consult with a holistic dentist who is knowledgeable about this issue.

See a chiropractor:

A chiropractor can perform spinal cord adjustments for gastrointestinal disorders and treatment of the vagus nerve and ileocecal valve.

Chiropractors can treat colic with a form of gentle spinal manipulation and relieve the pressure in the thoracic spine helping babies overcome their colicky condition.

Three or four visits may be required over a two-week period.

See a craniosacral practitioner:

Craniosacral therapy can effectively stimulate the cranial and vagus nerve soft tissue.

See a homeopath or naturopath:

These practitioners can diagnose and treat gastrointestinal disorders naturally so that the child’s immune, sensory, neurological and nervous systems develop without being compromised.

Explore baby product companies for the colicky baby:


Sources & References

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Assa, A., Vong, L., Pinnell, L.J., Avitzur, N., Johnson-Henry, K.C., Sherman, P.M. Vitamin D deficiency promotes epithelial barrier dysfunction and intestinal inflammation. J Infect Dis. 2014;210(8):1296-305.

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