Understanding and Managing Colic Effectively
You have just brought your new born baby home and you can’t stop admiring the tiny human being that you have given birth to. But just then your baby lets out a shrill ear shattering wail and whatever you do just does not seem to comfort your little one. His clenched fists and red face makes you wonder what you did wrong. Your baby may just be showing the signs of a condition called colic.
Colic in babies basically refers to an otherwise healthy baby crying inconsolably for long stretches of time. Symptoms of colic may include frequent spitting up, poor eating and irritability during and after feeds.
While the exact cause of colic is still unknown, some theories include:
- The immature digestive system of an infant makes it more susceptible to some of the substances in breast or formula milk.
- In the case of breastfed babies, colic may be a reaction to specific foods in the mother’s diet.
- Excessive air in the baby’s gastrointestinal tract
Some studies also indicate a disbalance in the gut micro-organisms to be a probable cause of colic. It has been seen that babies with colic had lower counts of good bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacilli as compared to healthy babies.
Addressing colic in infants is not only important for the babies overall health in both short and long term but also to reduce its adverse effects on maternal mental health and the family quality of life.
Tips to Improve Digestion in Infants
A baby is born with an immature gut which may lead to digestive discomfort in otherwise healthy infants. The initial days of an infant are crucial for the development of a healthy and well-functioning digestive tract. A healthy gut microbiota contains a balance of many classes of bacteria that have health promoting functions. An imbalance in gut flora has been found to be associated with asthma and allergy, infantile colic and gastrointestinal disorders, infections, inflammatory bowel disorders and obesity.
Studies indicate that external stimuli such as nutrition and environment play an important role in the development of the infants gastrointestinal (GI) system. As colic is a problem associated with the baby’s gut and that a low amount of good bacteria could be a probable cause for development of colic in the baby, it would be beneficial if ways to increase the count of these beneficial micro-organisms are looked at. As is widely known, human breast milk is the best form of nutrition for infants. It contains two important factors that helps shape the baby’s gut micro-organism in terms of diversity and stability. It acts as an important source of beneficial bacteria and contributes to the establishment of a well-balanced gut flora in a baby. With this, it is also a rich source of oligosaccharides, the third largest component of breast milk after carbohydrates and fat .These oligosaccharides have a prebiotic effect on infant gut health, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria like bifidobacteria and lactobacilli which may help in reduction of colic in babies.
Prebiotics are basically non digestible carbohydrates that travel to the colon intact and have the ability to selectively stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the colon.
Some other Benefits of Prebiotics are:
- Decreases incidence of falling sick.
- Promotes softer stools.
- Reduces incidence of allergic symptoms like skin allergies.
With little or no role of medication for colic, studies indicate that use of certain probiotic strains, prebiotic oligosaccharides in babies along with a low allergen diet (no consumption of milk and dairy products, etc.) by the mothers in case she is breast feeding may bring relief from colic for the baby. Calming measures like soothing motions, more frequent burping during feeds, offering pacifiers, swaddling, limiting stimulation, carrying baby around in a carrier, massaging the baby’s back or belly, cuddling or holding the baby close and playing music can help soothe the baby.
It is always advisable to check with your health care professional regarding the requirement of any dietary changes for a breastfeeding mother and also rule out any underlying medical condition that is triggering the crying. Also, in cases where breast feeding is not possible, check with your doctor to know alternate ways to manage colic in babies.