Fussiness, Excessive Crying, and Baby Colic

When an infant is not soothed or is unable to settle down even after its physical needs are met, it is referred to as fussiness.Prolonged crying for no apparent reason, by a physically fit infant whose normal needs are satisfied, is simply termed as excessive crying. Repeated episodes of prolonged, excessive, and piercing cry, by otherwise healthy infants, which usually last for several weeks, and often have a specific pattern, is called commonly called colic.

  • The exact cause of fussiness or excessive crying is not always detectable. The reason for colic may be gastroesophageal reflux, some injury, or infection, which is not usually identified.
  • If no reason for distress is detected even after detailed investigations, the condition is referred to as colic.
  • When no particular cause is identified, the infant is not given any specific treatment for colic or excessive crying.

Babies may start displaying fussiness, as well as excessive crying or colic, from the second week of life onwards. It may last for several weeks, but usually resolves by the time they are about four months old. The exact underlying cause for this condition may not be identified, but it is often assumed that accumulation of air in the gastrointestinal tract may be causing excessive discomfort. Excess air may enter the digestive tract while feeding, or crying, and if the infant is not burped after every feeding, it may cause stomach pain and discomfort. Other possible reasons may be an infection of the urinary tract, or an ear infection. A serious infection such as meningitis, or life-threatening conditions like intestinal obstructions, also may be the reason for excessive crying, but it is very rare. Gastroesophageal reflux or allergy to milk may cause pain and discomfort in the infant. Corneal abrasion, hair cutting into a finger or a toe, and painful gums due to teething, are some of the other commonly cited reasons.

When parents find it impossible to stop the infant’s excessive crying, a doctor should be consulted to rule out any serious illness the infant may be having. If the crying is associated with refusal to feed, or fever, the doctor may investigate possible reasons such as infections or intestinal obstructions. If any infection or other disorder is identified, the infant may be treated with antibiotics or other procedures, if required. The probable reasons such as gastroesophageal reflux, milk allergies etc. are looked into, and possible remedies are tried. The doctor may advice changing the baby formula. Parents may be instructed on how to burp the infant properly. When a corneal abrasion is detected, antibiotic drops or ointments are administered to avoid infections in the eye. If crying is suspected to be due to teething, the infant may be given teething rings which may reduce the irritation. Analgesic gels may help reduce pain. If a hair tourniquet is found on a finger or a toe, the doctor can remove it.

After looking into all possible reasons for excessive crying, if no apparent reason can be identified, doctors may diagnose the condition simply as excessive crying or colic for which no specific treatment is prescribed. If breastfeeding mothers notice any increase in crying associated with any particular food item, she should avoid it from her diet. Carrying the infant around in the arms or in a child carrier may soothe some infants. White noise from washing machines and fans may pacify some. Swaddling the infant snugly, or introducing a pacifier, has been found to be effective in some cases. Feeding the infant may help it settle down, but overfeeding should be avoided. If no such measures work, it is acceptable to let colicky infants to continue crying till they exhaust themselves and fall asleep.

The excessive and prolonged crying associated with colic can stress the parents and other caregivers and exhaust them. When these crying episodes happen at night, the infant can be safely laid on its back and allowed to soothe itself over a period of time and eventually fall asleep. Parents should seek advice, and if necessary, help from doctors, child care providers, supportive friends, and other family members. Emotional support during this period is very essential. Colic can go on for several weeks and the infant may appear to be in severe distress at the time of the crying episodes. Colicky infants are found to be in good health at other times, and require no treatment even though they seem to be suffering from great pain during an episode of crying. There is no evidence of any long-term harm in infants with colic, and it usually resolves by the time the infant is three to four months old.

Watch this Video Explanation Of  How to Calm a Fussy Baby:

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Yasser Elnahas

MD, PHD, Professor Of CardioVascular Surgery
Dr. Yasser Elnahas, Is an associate Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery. Dr. Elnahas was trained as a fellow At Texas Heart Institute And Mayo Clinic Foundation.Dr. Elnahas is dedicated to educating the general public about different disease conditions and simplifying the medical knowledge in an easy to understand terminology.

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