Infantile colic is a complicated and flummoxing syndrome that causes suffering for many infants and their parents. The causes and remedies are not widely understood by anyone in the scientific community. It is often assumed to be the diagnosis before other causes have been ruled out.
Colic is commonly believed to be intestinal gas and cramping. That is the definition of colic in a general sense as associated with adults and the overall population. They share the same name, but infantile colic is different. It is understood as: the cause of excessive infant crying when other causes have been ruled out. For that reason, it is called a diagnosis of exclusion.
In other words, infantile colic is defined as over-crying for unknown reasons. In many ways, it is a subjective diagnosis in that there is no medical standard for how much a baby should cry. It falls on the shoulders of the parents and caregivers to determine when the crying moves from acceptably normal levels to excessive levels in frequency, duration, and intensity.
At Canberra Spine Centre we are always concerned whenever a parent notices changes or problems with their infant.
Nobody knows a baby better than its parents and caregivers; therefore we take everything they say very seriously.
Steps to Determine Treatment
- The spine and nervous system: irritation of the nervous system can be a cause of colic, through initiation of the ‘stress response’ in the infant, which, in turn, slows gut activity. More on chiropractic care for colic later.
- Environmental Factors: We will interview the parents and caregivers to determine if there is anything about the home environment that could be a cause of excessive crying. Excessive noise, light, and variation of temperature can be possible sources of increased stress for the infant, causing upset.
- Social Factors: Sometimes excessive crying can be exacerbated by the interaction of the infant and their care giver. How the primary caregivers interact with the baby needs to be examined, as well. Some babies just cry more than others.
Stressed parents and caregivers can have a strong influence on the environment of the baby, which can in turn promote a stress respone in the baby, creating a negative feedback loop. Anything that can be identified to lessen a negative feedback cycle will be extremely helpful for reduction of over-crying. This can include feeding techniques, underfeeding, overfeeding, and exposure to nicotine and/or tobacco smoke.
- Overlooked Physical Factors: Anchoring on colic (assuming that a crying baby has colic) can make it easy to miss other physical problems that could be the cause excessive crying. Infants can’t talk to us about injuries that they may have sustained.
We have to be thorough and objective when we examine an infant patient and be aware that the power of suggestion can sometimes blind us to other problems. It is not uncommon for children to receive sprains and even broken bones (collar bone, most commonly) during the birth process. It is impossible to determine this without a thorough examination.
- Gastrointestinal Factors: This is where most people assume colic problems arise from. However, the science on this assumption is inconclusive and therefore requires us, as conscientious medical professionals, to rule out other factors before we decide to start treatment in this area. As stated before, colic diagnosis is a diagnosis of exclusion.
The GI tract is not a simple system and it is influenced by myriads of factors, some of which are better understood than others. Let’s examine some of the factors that are commonly suspected with infantile colic.
- Allergic reaction to certain foods: Some infants may develop intestinal inflammation from exposure to casein or whey, the proteins found in cow’s milk. If the child is consuming baby formula, changing to a specialised, non-dairy formula usually resolves the symptoms within a week or two.
If the baby is breastfeeding, these proteins are passed through to the baby, and may cause irritation of the gut if there is allergy. Eliminating dairy products, eggs, wheat and nuts from the mother’s diet can help. It takes around three weeks for the allergens to be removed from the system. At this point, if allergy is the cause, symptoms will abate. The mother can then re-introduce one food type at a time to see which is the culprit.
- Imbalance in the intestinal microflora: This may be part of the cause, but more likely a result of poor bowel function leading to bacterial imbalance. It is first important to correct initial cause before looking to restore normal gut flora. This can be done by supplementation with specialized infant pro-biotics, with the help of a health professional.
- Gas ingested during feeding or from dietary reactions: Some experts speculate that traditional bottle nipples can cause the baby to ingest too much gas in the course of feeding. Using a “natural flow baby bottle” may remedy this problem.
As for gas-reducing medications, most of them are surfactants that are either not safe but have some effect, or, are safe but have no demonstrable effects. It is almost universally recommended to not treat infants of only a few weeks old with medications unless absolutely necessary, and, if at all possible, to find natural, non-invasive remedies.
In short, infantile colic is a poorly understood condition resulting in excessive crying that can be extremely frustrating to parents and caregivers.
The Aim of the Treatment
The treatment is to eliminate possible causes by a thorough examination of socio-environmental factors, biological and medical factors, and lastly, possible gastrointestinal factors.
Through the careful and logical process of elimination and testing, the professionals at Canberra Spine Centre will find the simplest and most effect treatment that will eliminate the causes of infant over-crying.
There are many factors that make the diagnosis and choice of treatment for colic difficult. For example, infants in the first two weeks of life typically sleep up to 20 hours per day, and become much more active as the weeks progress. Crying will often increase during this time, and reduce after a few months. Often the treatment method is confirmed only after a short trial of care and a positive result.
There are two things we can be certain about, however:
- Incessant crying in ANY infant is NOT normal. Babies cry when they are wet, uncomfortable, hungry, tired, or need attention. They should not cry all the time.
- Any treatment for colic should help resolve the problem within a few weeks. In fact, in many cases, we observe a response in infants under chiropractic care within hours or days or their first adjustment.
How Can Chiropractic Treatment Help?
Chiropractors specialise in resolving health problems holistically by treating misalignments of the spine that can cause irritation and disruption of nerve function. These misalignments can adversely affect how the entire body functions.
Misalignments are called vertebral subluxations and are treated with safe, gentle physical manipulations called chiropractic adjustments. These adjustments restore proper motion to the spine, thus reducing aberrant input (eg. Too many pain signals) and increasing mechanoreceptor input (ie movement sensation information going to the brain). This promotes optimum functioning of the nervous system, mind and body communication, helping the body to once again regain proper function and health.
Infants can also suffer from vertebral subluxations. Injuries are most commonly sustained during the birthing process, especially when interventions such as forceps are required. They may also be caused inadvertently by poor handling or accidents (eg. Falling off the change table).
Your chiropractor at Canberra Spine Centre can find and treat these misalignments through very careful and gentle adjustments, specially designed for infant care. There is no “cracking” or “popping” of joints, just very gentle application of pressure over certain joint to restore lost motion. Generally no more force is used than that you can withstand on your eyeball.
Of course, a thorough examination of the socio-environmental conditions of the infant, interviews with the caregivers, and physical examination of the infant will be needed to eliminate possible factors that could be causing the excessive crying.
At Canberra Spine Centre, we find most of our infant patients with colic respond well to chiropractic care. Some that do not respond well can be helped through dietary change in the mother – eliminating dietary allergens. There are others we cannot help, who we refer out for further investigation.
More research needs to be done in this area. Slowly, the chiropractic profession is building this research database, with some interesting results. One such study found that in over 300 infants suffering what was believed to be infantile colic, that within 14 days of chiropractic care (an average of three visits), 94 percent of the children (including the 80 whose colic was quelled on the first day) “showed a satisfactory response. After four weeks, the improvements were maintained.” (J Manipulative Physiol Ther 1989;12:281.)
Even if the over-crying is caused by an outside factor, proper care and treatment of a baby’s spine and nervous system will improve the infant’s nervous system function and assist whatever treatments do prove effective.
At Canberra Spine Centre, we utilise holistic, non-invasive treatment methods for back pain and many other health problems, including infantile colic. We will find the source of the problem, assessing your child’s overall health, diet, and environment.
Don’t let your baby suffer needlessly through this difficult time of life. Let us help you find a holistic and economical treatment strategy that fits your needs and special circumstances.
Contact us today to receive our special offer for a thorough examination and consultation.
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- Detailed history and consultation
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