A symptom complex of early infancy that is characterized by paroxysms of crying, apparent abdominal pain, and irritability.

This refers to painful contractions of the gastrointestinal tract. About 10 – 15% of healthy normal babies have colic. In true severe colic the baby will have a high pitched cry and draw its feet up into the belly and will be difficult to console. If the baby has been crying for two hours without interruption, one must rule out some other source of pain such as ear infection, intestinal obstruction, etc. Infantile colic usually starts at 1 month, and resolves by 4 months.

The causes of colic are not well understood, but tends to be found in babies with a sensitive or vigorous temperament and a below-average need for sleep. Ideas about causes include too rapid feeding, overeating, swallowing excessive air, improper feeding technique, i.e.: incorrect positioning, lack of burping, and emotional tension between parent and child. The parents of such babies, will be under great stress. The infant will often be stimulated into fussy behavior by this stress, creating positive feedback. Parents will often have feelings of frustration, anger, despair, and helplessness, and it maybe appropriate to treat the parents for stress related problems (see that section). The mechanism of colic is thought to be excessive fermentation and gas production in the intestines. The following list is based upon points that Dr. Karen Bilgrai Cohen D.C. emphasizes in treating colic. I have left out the chiropractic procedures she recommends.

  • Change in the nursing mothers diet: The most common gas producing foods eaten by nursing mothers include: dairy products; cabbage family; orange juice; very spicy foods; caffeine containing foods such as chocolate, coffee, tea; anything that produces gas in the mother.

  • Drinking soothing herb teas. The relaxing nervines. especially those containing carminative oils may help. Examples for the mother to drink include Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Balm (Melissa officinalis)Linden (Tilia spp.) or Red Clover (Trifolium pratense).

  • Rhythmic activities: Such movement helps ease both abdominal discomfort and emotional distress. Examples might include gentle rocking, car rides, walking with baby in a front pack, baby swings, setting in infant seat on top of a clothes dryer.

  • Sucking: Some babies will not suck during colic attacks, and it is not a good idea to continually feed the colicky infant, however you may be able to encourage the infant to suck his own hand or fingers, or a teething object.

  • Heat: Lay baby over warm hot water bottle wrapped in towel in a flexed position and rhythmically pat the back. Give the baby a warm bath.

  • Alter feeding position: Try feeding with baby sitting up to avoid ingestion of air. Bubble the baby often during feeding

  • If bottle feeding: change the formula or the type of water used to make it.

  • Acidophilus: This is not usually needed in the breast fed baby, however some babies greatly benefit from the addition of acidophilus to the diet. This can be mixed with water and fed by bottle or eye dropper.NEVER give honey to babies under 1 year old, as this has been associated with infantile botulism.

A range of herbs may help the baby directly, but they do not replace the suggestions given above. Mild carminative relaxing nervines are usually suggested. Examples of such soothing tea’s can be made with the following herbs, selection being based upon taste or relevant secondary actions. For example Trifolium pratense has much to offer in the treatment of childhood eczema.

Matricaria recutita (Chamomile)

Melissa officinalis (Balm)

Tilia spp. (Linden)

Trifolium pratense (Red Clover)

A more directly carminative effect can achieved by using Peppermint (Menthapiperita) or Dill (Anethum graveolens) tea. A classic folk remedy for colic is the castor oil rub, and again to quote from Maribeth Riggs:

Hot Castor Oil Rub

This remedy is good if your infant’s belly is tight and bloated and/or gas is being passed. Castor oil is a well-known and powerful purgative for the bowels. Warmed and massaged into an infant’s belly, however, castor oil is comforting and effective for relieving colic and expelling intestinal gas.

1 6-oz. bottle castor oil

1 pot half-filled with water

  1. Loosen the cap and place the bottle of castor oil in the pot of water.

  2. Warm the water until little bubbles form on the pot bottom.
  3. Apply a test drop of 2 to the inside of your wrist to test the temperature. The oil should be as warm as possible, but not so warm that it burns an infant’s tender skin.

  4. Write the date you opened the bottle on the label and store the oil in the medicine chest, well out of the reach of children. Warm the oil when needed and discard it after 6 months.

Application: Arrange yourself comfortably on the floor or a bed with the bottle of warmed oil nearby. Lay the diapered infant on his or her back in your lap. Make sure the room is warm because the infant’s belly is exposed. Hum and croon to calm the infant, pour out a palmful of oil and gently apply it to the belly. Start at the navel and rub in a clockwise direction until you cover the infant’s entire abdominal area. Rub for 10 to 15 minutes, applying more oil as needed. The infant will calm down as soon as you start rubbing and may pass gas or have a bowel movement. If the infant has unusually long or severe attacks of colic, or fails to gain weight, consult a physician.

Constipation (see also pg. 2-14)

Although rarely seen in breast fed babies, it is not abnormal for breast fed babies to have bowel movements as infrequently as one in seven days. Treat breast fed infants for constipation only if the child appears to have pain and cries during the bowel movement. The indications for treatment in bottle fed babies or young children include:

  • Painful passage. Pain during bowel movement is abnormal and in some cases trauma to the anal canal can lead to anal fissure. This is confirmed by finding bright red blood around anus or on toilet paper.

  • Inability to pass stools. Children who feel the need to have a bowel movement and are unable to do so. The exception is infants less that 12 months of age who grunt push, or strain, and become flushed in the face during bowel movements. This is normal behavior as long as the episode is not accompanied by pain.

  • Infrequent movements, going more than four days for young children.

If bowel movements are accompanied by much pain, abdominal bloating and crying it is important to refer for skilled diagnosis to rule out conditions such as Hirschsprungs disease, impaction, etc..

It is inappropriate to use laxative remedies with children unless absolutely necessary, as constipation almost always responds to dietary changes. For babies over six months of age you may add strained apricots, prunes, pears to the diet. For older children try:

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Written by David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH

Explore Wellness in 2021