Understanding Colic – Irritable Baby Syndrome


Bringing a new baby into the world is a joyous occasion, but it can also come with its fair share of challenges. One of the most common issues parents face with their infants is colic. Often referred to as “baby colic,” this term has now been updated to “Irritable Baby Syndrome” to better reflect the complexity of the condition and the fact that it may not always be related to gut issues.

Irritable Baby Syndrome – The New Term for Baby Colic

Irritable Baby Syndrome is a term that encompasses a wide range of symptoms and behaviours in infants, characterized by excessive crying, fussiness, and irritability. The name change reflects the growing understanding that not all cases of colic are exclusively linked to gastrointestinal issues. It is now recognized that an irritable baby may have various sources of discomfort, and this change encourages a more holistic approach to diagnosis and treatment.

What irritable baby syndrome looks like;

  1. Excessive Crying: The hallmark is prolonged periods of crying and fussiness that often occur in the late afternoon or evening, without any apparent cause.
  2. Clenched Fists and Arching Back: Infants may clench their fists, arch their backs, and display overall signs of discomfort during episodes of crying.
  3. Difficulty Soothing: Parents often find it challenging to soothe their baby despite their best efforts to feed, change, or cuddle them.
  4. Sleep Disturbances: Babies struggle to sleep, leading to exhaustion for both the baby and their caregivers.

While the exact cause of Irritable Baby Syndrome remains a topic of ongoing research, several factors have been identified as potential contributors. Here are some reasons why it may be occurring:

  1. Gastrointestinal Factors: the traditional idea of colic has always been linked to gut issues and this can not be ignored. In some cases, it may be due to gas, indigestion, or food sensitivities. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is another condition that can cause discomfort in infants.
  2. Immature Digestive System: Babies are born with immature digestive systems that can take time to fully develop, making them more sensitive to certain foods and causing discomfort.
  3. Sensory Overload: Overstimulation from the environment, such as loud noises, bright lights, or excessive handling, can contribute to a baby’s irritability.
  4. Parental Stress: Babies are highly attuned to their parents’ emotions. If parents are stressed or anxious, their baby may pick up on these feelings and become more irritable.
  5. Hunger or Thirst: Sometimes, a baby’s fussiness is due to simple hunger or thirst, and they may need more frequent feedings. This is especially true in the afternoon and the term “Witching hour”
  6. Sleep Deprivation: Lack of appropriate sleep cycles for both the baby and the parents, can exacerbate irritability and crying.
  7. Often overlooked or ignored is the baby is in pain due to a musculoskeletal issue. Babies come into the world with a great deal of force in many cases there are sprain/strain injuries to the head, neck and shoulders (this is more common than previously realised or appreciated). If a baby has strained a joint and they are uncomfortable they generally are unhappy, they cannot assume a comfortable feeding position, hate the car as it further strains the neck and often hate getting dressed when arms are raised, or head tucked to put on shirt/dress.

Ohana’s  Holistic Approach to helping with irritable baby syndrome:

Parental Support: We support and re-assure parents on what is happening and how we can help. Treatment options for parents if required are offered in house or referral to the most appropriate practitioner. Reducing parental stress can have a positive impact on the baby’s irritability.

Feeding Adjustments: We can help with dietary recommendations for breast feeding parents and or formula recommendations for bottle fed babies to help isolate any food intolerances and or allergies.

Create a Calming Environment: Advice and strategies for minimizing sensory overload by providing a calm, quiet environment for your baby can be provided. Examples include dimming the lights and limit loud noises when trying to soothe.

Baby Massage: Gentle baby massage techniques can be shown or a referral to local baby massage class provided.  

Chiropractic Care: Some parents have found relief for their irritable babies through chiropractic care, especially when there has been a case of head, neck or shoulder strain due to in utero positioning or birth trauma which often helps improve the baby’s comfort.

Irritable Baby Syndrome  is a complex condition that affects many infants, causing discomfort, crying, and stress for both parents and baby. By understanding the various factors that can contribute to IBS and adopting a holistic approach to treatment, parents can help their babies find relief and ensure their well-being. Our friendly paediatrically advanced trained chiropractors at Ohana Chiropractic are available to help parents  with strategies and correct diagnosis of the root causes.  

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