The joy a newborn baby brings to its parent’s lives can quickly turn to dismay in the early days of life when the first heart-wrenching cries of colic commence. Apart from the obvious distress of the infant, the anguish and helplessness parents feel is equally traumatic in their exhausting attempt to soothe their baby’s pain.
The term “Colic” is given to a set of symptoms that arise in some babies whose digestive system is still growing and adapting to life outside the womb. The most common include sharp, intermittent abdominal pain and distension of the abdomen, which is accompanied by changes in stool colour and/or consistency, difficultly expelling wind, fussing at the breast or bottle and of course crying and screaming. Severity of symptoms varies from day to day or even the time of day, with some babies drawing their knees up or conversely stretching them out in order to obtain some relief. The onset of such symptoms does not always occur in the days following birth, sometimes taking several weeks to develop.
While the cause and predisposition to colic in babies has not been clearly identified, clinical experience shows an increase in occurrence in infants that have had a difficult birth and in bottle-fed babies who are sensitive to cow’s milk, but even so, is not the cause in all cases. The diet of the breastfeeding Mother also plays a critical role. If you have a colicky baby, experiment with your diet by alternately eliminating the “suspect foods” that your baby may not be able to tolerate for a few days at a time. Watch what you eat and how your baby reacts to certain foods you consume in order to avoid those that tend to produce colic in your baby. Suspect foods include cow’s milk and other dairy products, highly spiced and seasoned foods (e.g. chillies, capsicum, pepper), alcohol, chocolate, tea, coffee, strawberries, oranges, grapes and “flatulent foods” such as cabbage, broccoli, onions and cauliflower. More rarely egg and wheat products are to blame, even stone fruits like apricots, cherries and peaches. You would be surprised how cutting out sugar (including cutting down fruit) and increasing protein (meat, eggs etc.) can change a colic ridden baby almost overnight. Some Mother’s find it difficult to avoid sugar, let alone cut it out all together, but the sacrifice is insignificant in comparison to the relief it will bring to your baby. At least give it a try for a few days and see the results. If your baby is bottle-fed and you feel that the cow’s milk based formula may be a problem, consult a health practitioner before changing to a soy based formula (Goat’s milk formulas are another great option also), as some babies find these formulas too acidic and the levels of sugar in some brands is cause for concern.
Another cause of colic is the intake of air when the baby feeds which they find difficult to bring up. Try different feeding positions, which may reduce the air-swallowing problem. If you are experiencing attachment difficulties or conditions such as cracked nipples, they can also add to the stress of feeding, thus may indirectly produce a colicky baby. Breastfeeding does not come as naturally and easily as others may have lead you to believe – it is an acquired but worthwhile art form. If you are at all concerned about your technique or positioning, it is worthwhile contacting a lactation consultant. If you are bottle-feeding, experiment with a variety of teat brands with different flow speeds (smaller holes for younger babies). Try to make feeding a relaxing and enjoyable time for both of you. Where possible feed in a quiet place in a comfortable position. Soothing music can also add to a relaxed atmosphere. Keep in mind gulping may be the result of a hungry babies attempt to get more milk quickly, so avoid getting into a situation where your baby gets desperate for a feed. Try not to put your baby down for a sleep straight after feeding and allow enough time for him/her to bring up wind.
There are a number of Homeopathic medicines that can be a Godsend for colicky baby and their parents. Homeopathic medicines are prescribed on an individual basis, taking all aspects of a person into consideration. The following is a list of the more common medicines prescribed for colic with the characteristics found in each of them.
Severe and unbearable pain with abdominal bloating. Loose, green, slimy stools that smell of rotten eggs – the baby may cry when passing stools. Infants scream with anger and restlessness and demand to be carried around (rapidly rather than gently), pushed in a pram, driven in the car etc. but are rarely consoled for any length of time. They want something and immediately reject it once offered. The face may be red and hot or one cheek is red and hot while the other is pale and cool. Wind is passed in small amounts without relief.
Colic with a distended abdomen and green diarrhoea. The pain is severe and comes in waves. Babies pull their legs up in order to obtain relief. They scream with pain which is relived somewhat by putting them over your knee or shoulder. They are worse after the mother has consumed fruit, after feeds, when overheated and before passing stools. They are better after passing stools and when pressure and rubbing motion is applied to the abdomen. Vomiting may accompany symptoms.
Abdomen is rumbly and windy. Babies bend backwards and/or stretch out (arch back) to obtain relief. Symptoms are worse in the morning. They like to be held upright and are worse when lying down.
Babies bend double to obtain relief. They constantly pass wind, which does not ease the pain. The abdomen looks swollen. They are better for warmth in general and placing a warm hand over the area.
Colic in breast-fed babies after the Mother has consumed rich, fatty food,, fruit or ice-cream. Stools are sour smelling. Symptoms are worse in the evening. Babies are clinging and like to be carried around gently.
There are numerous natural but effective remedies and techniques you may like to try with colicky infants. They include:
This is a similar technique to acupuncture but using fingers instead of needles. The pressure point for soothing the stomach muscles and liver is located one finger’s width below and between your baby’s first and second toes. Apply one finger to this spot and hold on and off every 5 seconds or so for up to 5 minutes.
Tummy massage is an effective way to bring up wind and calm a distressed baby. Using one hand, start in the middle of the abdomen, around the navel, and lightly work in a clockwise direction in progressively larger circles. Alternately bending each knee towards the baby’s stomach, in a gentle cycling motion, also aids in the release of trapped wind and/or constipation. These massage techniques can be done after each feed for 15 to 30 minutes. Be persistent and calm, as your baby may become distressed when you start massaging initially but with time will associate your touch with comfort and relaxation. As an accompliament to massage, a rub made of cinnamon oil can be used to massage with. Cinnamon provides tone and warmth to upset digestive systems, making it useful for colic. Combine 2 drops of cinnamon oil to ½ a cup of almond oil in a amber glass bottle and shake well. 1 teaspoonful should be a sufficient amount to use for each massage. It is best to warm it by rubbing your hands together before applying it to your baby’s tummy.
Tea for Mum
If your breastfeeding, drinking 3 cups of weak dill, fennel or anise tea per day may relieve your baby’s colic troubles. Just add 1 teaspoon of either herb to a teapot with 1 cup of water and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Strain and drink.
Tea for Bub
Weak tea made for lemon balm or chamomile can be given directly to your baby. Add 1 teaspoon of either herb to a teapot with 2 cups of boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes, allow to cool and administer 1-2 teaspoons (in a dropper may be easiest) the amount will equate to 5-10 mls) up to twice per day.
Warm, weak peppermint tea can be given by the dropper full when needed to relieve colic symptoms.
Fennel and Anise Seeds
Both of these soothing herbs calm the gastrointestinal tract and aid digestion. Steep 2 teaspoons of either fennel or anise seeds in 2 cups of boiling water for 5 minutes. Strain the liquid and store it in a sterile glass bottle in a cool dry place. This mixture can then be further diluted in 2 tablespoons of cooled boiled water. For infants under 12 months, 1-2 teaspoons can be given up to 3 times per day. Children 12 months and over can have 3 teaspoons of the mixture up to 3 times per day.
Add 2 tablespoons of dried chamomile flowers to 1 ½ cups of boiling water. Steep for up to 10 minutes, strain and allow to cool to warm. Soak a cloth in the mixture, wring out and apply to your baby’s abdomen, pressing gently for a minute and repeat.
Old Fashioned Remedies
A brilliant old-fashioned remedy for colic. Simply boil 250ml (1 metric cup) of water with 1 tablespoon of dill seeds. Cool, strain and give it to your baby in sips from a cup or via a dropper.
Hot Water Bottle
Some babies find warmth comforting when they have colic. Try placing a warm (never hot) hot water bottle next to your baby’s belly.
Some babies like to be held close when they have colic. Wrap your baby up tightly and carry them in a sling close to you for comfort.
Please seek help for colic if persistent diarrhoea, vomiting, urine retention or constipation accompanies the symptoms or your baby has persistent colic, especially if they cannot be consoled. Remember that colic does not last forever, even if it feels like a lifetime at the time. There are plenty of natural and effective treatment options available. Look after yourself to avoid exhaustion and don’t feel guilty by taking a break from your baby. Take some time out if you’re at the end of your tether, forget the housework and try to relax, as this will benefit your baby as well.