Telethon Kids Institute-Joondalup Health Campus: When babies won’t stop crying – infantile colic

Stock image.
Stock image.

The Origins Project, a collaboration led by Telethon Kids Institute and Joondalup Health Campus, is a long-term study into the health and development of 10,000 children born at the Joondalup hospital over the next few years.

In this regular series, Community News features an Origins researcher explaining the project’s research or health issues that matter to parents and families.

This week’s columnist is Dr Ravisha Srinivas Jois, paediatrician and head of neonatology at Joondalup Health Campus.

EXCESSIVE crying or fussiness in an otherwise healthy infant is one of the most common problems parents take their to a child health clinic or general practitioner.

Dr Ravisha Srinivas Jois.

Such crying can be frustrating for parents because of the apparent absence of underlying factors, but it can also leave them feeling helpless and greatly distressed as they witness their infant in apparent pain.

This excessive crying – for more than three hours in a day, more than three days a week – is often referred to as infantile colic.

Usually more apparent in the evenings, infantile colic can start at around three or four weeks of age, peaking at around six weeks and lasting until up to four months of age.

Signs and symptoms

• Excessive crying; often the infant appears in pain.

• Inability to console despite changing the way infant is held.

• Extreme fussy behaviour, even after crying has subsided.

• Tensing of the body.

• Symptomatic relief is sometimes observed after the baby passes gas or stools.

A thorough history and clinical evaluation should be undertaken to rule out other medical conditions for excessive crying. Some of the symptoms overlap with signs of gastro-oesophageal reflux, for example.

No definitive underlying cause has been identified for infantile colic, however various factors have been suggested as contributing to the diagnosis. These include relative immaturity of the intestine, an imbalance in healthy bacterial flora of the intestines, excessive feeding, maternal stress and post-natal depression.

In terms of treatment, infantile colic is a self-limiting disorder. Improving gut flora using clinically researched probiotic formulations containing Lactobacillus reuteri has been shown, after prolonged administration, to reduce the hours of crying.

Various modifications with infant formula, and modification of maternal diet such as avoiding dairy products, have also been attempted with variable results.

No immediate or long-term complications on neurological development have been reported. However, unresolved severe infantile colic may contribute to early cessation of breastfeeding, family stress and post-natal depression, so it is always a good idea to seek the advice of your child health nurse or GP to find out what support is available.

For more on the Origins Project or on how you can get involved , visit originsproject.telethonkids.org.au.