Sr Amori Jordaan, a specialist midwife who is the maternity unit manager at Netcare Linkwood Hospital, explains that colic is not a medical condition but rather refers to extreme and inconsolable crying for hours at a time, taking place over a period of weeks or months. “While it is unclear what causes colic, there may be a link with the immaturity of the infant's nervous system, the gut, or a combination of the two.
Food sensitivity that causes discomfort may contribute to colic, and the baby’s underdeveloped nervous system may result in certain babies feeling over stimulated and stressed by the sensory input of being in the world. “In both cases the issue begins to resolve around the three-to-four-month mark when the nervous system starts to mature and the baby is moving more, helping to release trapped gas in their abdomens. This timeline mirrors that of when colic tends to subside, however there is no proven link,” she says.
“Consoling a baby continuously for several hours without knowing why they are crying or what you can do to comfort them is frustrating and exhausting and is associated with postpartum depression and other mental health conditions in the mother. The impact of this on parents is astonishing and it can, in severe cases, result in shaken baby syndrome – a serious injury to the brain caused by shaking the baby out of frustration.”
Sr Jordaan notes that when it comes to colic, being prepared is key and it can make all the difference to be aware of what to expect and of how to soften the experience.
The colic period
Typically, colic begins at around two weeks and becomes steadily worse with your baby crying more and more each week. It usually reaches its peak at around six weeks to two months, after which the crying will gradually reduce back to normal levels by four months or so.
Normal crying vs continuous crying
Crying is a baby’s way of letting you know that they need something such as a feed, a nappy change or sleep. This is normal and they will usually stop crying once they have what they need. A colic baby however will cry inconsolably for hours at a time and for no apparent reason. This will often take place around the same time each day, usually in the late afternoon or early evening. This will also be punctuated by a peak after which it will reduce and they will then become calm again.
Appearance of extreme distress or pain
During a colic crying spell the baby’s cry is not only continuous but intense and they will usually clench their fists and
turn red in the face. This is highly distressing for parents as it seems as though the baby is in a great deal of pain or distress, yet nothing will soothe them. Because babies of this age have not yet learned to breathe through their noses they can swallow quite a bit of air during a crying spell, leading to them feeling bloated which can cause them to cry even more.