The latest research into infant colic

Blog Image for article The latest research into infant colic

One in five babies suffer from colic, making it one of the most common conditions experienced by infants under the age of four months.

Although infant colic is considered to be benign and self-resolving, it can still have serious effects on family life, with links to maternal depression, child abuse, such as baby shaking, and breastfeeding being stopped early.

Fortunately, a new study by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute has looked at management options to help babies and parents cope with the crying.

First, what is infant colic?

Simply put, colic is excessive crying, without obvious cause, in otherwise healthy infants. In real terms, this means crying or fussing for more than three hours a day for more than three days a week.

The exact cause of colic is uncertain, however, researchers suspect that there are physiological and psychosocial factors behind it, for example, gastrointestinal problems or mental health contributors.

The good news is that most colic self-resolves when a child is three- or four-months-old, and although there is no single effective treatment for colic, there are things that can help.

How can infant colic be managed?

Dr Valerie Sung is a paediatrician and author of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute study says that colic can be managed by:

  • Ruling out organic causes of crying such as lactose intolerance or reflux

  • Parents being offered support and strategies to help them feed, settle and put their baby to sleep

  • Acknowledging that colic does cause family stress

In terms of particular treatments, Dr Sung says that some are more effective than others, and here is her summary of what may help and what may not:

Different infant colic interventions Their level of effectivness
  • A probiotic called Lactobacillus reuteri DSM17938
Effective for exclusivley breastfed infants with colic
  • Hydrolised formula
  • A hypo-allergenic diet in breastfeeding mothers
  • Reduced stimulation 
  • Improved parental responsivness
  • A focus on parent counselling
  • Acupuncture 
Possibly effective 
  • The common anti-foaming drug, simethicone
  • Spinal manipulation
  • Lactase
  • Soy or fibre-enriched formula
  • Carbohydrate alteration
  • Increased carrying
  • A car ride simulator or crib vibrator 
  • Anti-cholinergic drugs, e.g. dicyclomine or cimetropium
  • Herbal mixtures
  • Swaddling
Effective but possibly harmful 
  • Sucose
Effective, but short-lived effects 

All in all, colic can be hard for parents to handle in their child’s first months, and Dr Sung says that, 'It is vital to recognise that the family is usually doing the best they can for their baby, to allay any feelings of failure or guilt, and to encourage them to take adequate breaks from their crying infant.'

Even though the first three or four months may be trying, families can be reassured that their baby's colic won't last forever.

What does infant colic mean for children in the long-term?

The other good news is that according to another study by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, infant colic leads to no ongoing problems.

Lead author, Dr Georgie Bell says, 'This study confirms to parents that if their baby is crying a lot in the first three months of life, there will not be long-lasting impacts on their child's behaviour or the well-being of the family when compared with babies without infant colic at two to three years of age – While it is no doubt a difficult time for parents, we can now reassure them that there is light at the end of the tunnel.'

On that note, don't be afraid to ask for advice from your medical professional and rest assured that your baby's seemingly endless colic will resolve itself.

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