What is colic? Why is my child hyperirritable?
For a baby to be diagnosed with colic, we use the rule of three’s: crying starts at around 3 weeks old, lasts for more than 3 hours at a time for 3 days a week and persists for a minimum of 3 consecutive weeks. The crying may have the following characteristics:
- Crying is loud, piercing and continuous – seems like the baby is screaming rather than crying.
- Crying may occur at the same time daily – usually around sunset.
- It seems like the baby is crying for no reason – not due to being tired or hungry or having a dirty diaper.
When this type of crying occurs, the baby may pull his/her legs up, clench his hands into tiny fists and tighten his/her abdominal muscles. They also close their eyes, or open them very wide, furrows their brows or even briefly hold their breath. The baby is very active, even hysterical; his/her face may even turn bright red. The baby also won’t calm down to sleep or eat, no matter what you try.
The causes of colic:
Colic is caused by various causes including overstimulation, digestive problems like reflux or food allergies, or musculoskeletal dysfunction to name a few.
- Overstimulated senses: To allow newborns to sleep or eat without being disturbed by the environment, they have a built-in mechanism to tune out surrounding sights and sounds. This mechanism however disappears around the end of the first month, leaving the babies more sensitive to stimuli from the environment. This causes an increased influx of stimuli to the baby, making them feel overwhelmed – usually at the end of the day. The baby cries and cries to relieve the stress. Theoretically, when the baby learns how to filter out some of the environmental stimuli, the crying should stop.
- An immature digestive system: For newborns, digesting food in a brand new gastrointestinal system is a challenging task. The food then passes through too quickly without being digested properly, resulting in pain from gas in the intestines.
- Infant acid reflux: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is often a trigger for colic. There is a muscle, the esophageal sphincter, in lower esophagus that prevents stomach acid from flowing back into the throat and mouth, resulting in irritation of the esophagus. This esophageal sphincter in often underdeveloped and thus results in infant GERD. Frequent spitting up, poor eating and irritability during or after feeding are some of the symptoms. There is light at the end of the tunnel though. By the age of 1 year, most babies have outgrown GERD. Luckily, the colic disappears long before then.
- Food allergies or sensitivity: Some experts believe that colic results from an allergy to milk protein (or lactose intolerance) in formula-fed babies. Rarely, breastfed babies may develop colic in response to specific foods in Mom’s diet. Either way, the colicky behavior is the result of tummy pain from these allergies or sensitivity.
- Musculoskeletal dysfunction: When in utero space is too small (e.g. a large baby and petite mom, a mom with restricted pelvic joints etc.), the growing baby might be forced to lie in an awkward potion. Often the baby can also sustain an injury during the birthing process (e.g. from assisted birthing methods such as induction or forceps, or pulling of the head, neck or arm during natural births or C-section births, etc.). Babies can also sustain injuries as a result of poor posture (sleeping position, car seats, etc.), improper feeding and holding techniques, accidents or injuries from falls.
These injuries may cause restrictions and fixations of the spine or joints, associated muscle spasms and nerve irritation. Your child to experiences this as pain and discomfort, resulting in irritability. Some children may even fall behind in their developmental milestones as it is too painful to progress to the next step (e.g. a child with a back injury will be hesitant to sit, crawl, stand or even walk; a child with a neck injury will find it difficult to sleep on his/her back or do tummy time; a child with a jaw injury will be reluctant to breast feed or bottle feed, etc.).
How can my chiropractor help?
Chiropractic treatment of babies and children are applied gently. The adjustments and mobilizations are performed to the affected joints of the body to restore normal alignment and movement of the joints as well as restoring normal nerve function. When soft tissue tension is present, baby massage and holding technique stretches is often used.
When examining a baby, a thorough clinical history and physical examination is performed to determine if the cause of the symptoms is neuro-musculoskeletal in origin. Dr. Vicki will also advise you on home treatment procedures that will help your child’s recovery. This may include holding and feeding techniques, positive reinforcement therapies, baby massage and exercise sessions.
If there is no improvement in the symptoms or if it suspected that the colic might be due to other causes (e.g. lactose intolerance, reflux, etc.), Dr. Vicki will refer you to the appropriate medical practitioner for further medical treatment or testing.