Janet , a nursing mother observed that her baby cried excessively and vigorously despite looking healthy.
She got worried when the excessive cry continued unabated and took her to the hospital for examination. The baby was later diagnosed with colic.
Prof. Alphonsus Onyiriuka, a Consultant Paediatrician and Paediatric Endocrinologist at the Department of Child Health, University of Benin Teaching Hospital described colic in babies as an excessive cry seen in young infants who otherwise are healthy and growing well.
“So, infants that cry excessively but are healthy and are growing well are said to have colic”, he said.
He said colic has no known causes but “May be referred to as an excessive and extreme normal phenomenon because every child cries, so it is like an excessive type of the normal phenomenon.”
He said, “The causes are not known but sometimes faulty feeding technique may be a reason; may be if the mother rushes the feeding and the child swallows a lot of air that can cause colic.
“Babies can also cry extensively when they have infection, particularly ear infection and other contributors. Babies have different temperament, those that have wild temperaments may cry more than those that have a more gentle temperament”.
Prof. Onyiriuka, described the symptoms of colic as intense crying and coughing.
“It is done in episodes in the sense that there are intervals where the child is not crying and at other times, the baby is crying and it is very intense and lasts for several hours.
“Also, the cry happens in the late afternoon and at night. Other things that may be associated with the symptoms are the baby pulling his or her leg up and you may find expression of pains in the baby’s face and may now expel gas”, he added.
On diagnosis, the consultant paediatrician said “Before making a diagnosis, we have to take the history of the mother and examine the baby before concluding whether it is colic or not.
“The diagnosis is that you must ensure that the child eats well and he is growing normally but this cry lasts for more than three hours a day, three days in a week and the duration should be at least three weeks.
“Sometimes people use the rule of three to make the diagnosis but there is no organic cause found. That means when you examine the patients you will not find organic cause”, he said.
The medical expert said prevention is difficult because there is no predisposing factor for colic.
He said, “Before you prevent something, you must know the pre-disposing factors but since these factors are not known, it is difficult to predict how we can prevent it.
“But what we need to do is that during the prenatal period (pregnancy), we can educate mothers concerning the normal cry of babies, and how to sooth them and calm them down. Once they know the normal pattern of crying and how to sooth the babies, then they may not have to worry much”.
He added that there is no specific treatment for colic, adding, “It is just by carrying the baby, soothing and singing for the baby. Although, some people talk about medication but it is advised that medication should be avoided. But sometimes when all these techniques of soothing the baby fail, some people recommend syrups.”
Advice for nursing mothers
Prof Onyiriuka advised that since majority of the cry occurred in the late afternoon and in the evening, mothers should have someone who could help carry the baby when he or she is crying while they do house chores or other things.
“Remember that it is late evening that they cry and by then the mother is tired or exhausted, it would be useful if she has someone to help because that would prevent the mother from getting irritated and angry to the extent of somehow rough-handling the baby.
“We also need to teach mothers the various ways of handling babies, through singing and rocking the baby while avoiding shaking them vigorously because that may cause injuries. If the mother has issues after delivering, we should address it before going home to calm her mind.”
He also advised that when mothers are feeding babies they should not rush or be in a hurry because rushing the baby would contribute to the baby swallowing air and making them to cry.