By Dr Mike Marinus, dad to Megan and James plus a Chiropractor in Blairgowrie with a special interest in family practice and paediatric care. Click here to hear his podcast. This is the 3rd in our series on babies by Dr Marinus. Find his other articles here.
It is estimated that 15 – 25% of families with babies deal with colic. I say families on purpose because the effects of a colic baby can be as devastating for the rest of the household and have a lasting effect on the family dynamic long after the crying stops.
Colic is normal. It’s is not your fault and it’s not your baby’s fault. It happens equally to boys and girls, there is no association between mom’s age and colic or how many children you’ve had previously. Colic can hit with your 1st or 5th child with equal likelihood. Studies also show that breastfed babies are as likely to have colic as formula fed babies and it happens equally in all socioeconomic groups.
Colic arrives around 2 weeks of age (just around the time you tell your friends how your baby never cries!) it peaks at 6 weeks and then trails off around 3 months. It was defined back in 1954 by Morris Wessel, an American paediatrician, who stated that a Colic baby is “A healthy baby with periods of inconsolable, intense, unexplained crying that lasts more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week for more than 3 weeks”. It is therefore known as the rule of 3’s, or as bestselling author Harvey Karp explains it: The need for 3 nannies, 3 margaritas and 3 sets of hands.
On average only 8% of crying babies have Colic
We have since added to the original Wessel definition by adding criteria such as what the cries sound like and what your child’s body is doing during the crying spell to be more accurate when it comes to excessive crying. When we look at babies through this lens we see that only 8% of excessively crying babies have True Colic and the others are classed as Fussy/ High Needs babies.
Some differences between these two groups are that between the 3 hour bouts of crying, True Colic babies are happy and relaxed whereas Fussy/High Needs babies look like they are always hard at work, grunting, moaning and changing position frequently. These babies may not even reach the 3 hour crying mark but they always seem uncomfortable. True Colic is also the only type of excessive crying that is not stopped or avoided by lots of physical contact, demand feeding or co sleeping the way the Fussy/High Needs babies are.
Colic turns out to be something babies do, not something that they have.
There is no lab test that’s positive for colic or any x-ray to confirm it and that’s because it’s a behaviour not an illness. Organic disease has been linked to less than 5% of Colic cases, these babies often suffer the effects of an underdeveloped nervous system (explained further in the above linked podcast) making them easily overstimulated and pushing them over the Colic Limit, making soothing difficult. Caeser birth, Infant migraine, hormones and microflora have all been studied as possible causes.
Colic babies must be checked out by your medical professional to make sure that there is no underlying problem causing the crying. Fever, rapid breathing, bulging fontanelle, copious vomiting, very high pitched cry, diarrhoea and bad weight gain are not colic signs and should be attended to by your doctor.