If you are wondering if your baby has colic, he probably does not. When you have a colicky baby, you know it. A colicky baby is one who cries more than three hours a day, usually in the evening hours, at least three days a week. The colicky baby cries intensely and appears in agony. He may have a flushed face, and a rigid, distended abdomen. He cries with legs drawn up and hands clenched.
Colic peaks at six weeks and usually disappears by the time the baby is three or four months old. It affects 10 to 25 % of all babies. No one knows for certain what causes colic, although it is thought to have something to do with the baby’s immature digestive system.
Although there is no known “cure” for colic, many things may ease it. Here are a few tips for getting through this difficult period:
THINGS THAT HELP
First, rule out an internal disorder. Extended crying may be caused by an inner ear infection, urinary tract infection, or numerous other ailments. Keep close track of your child’s other symptoms, and take her to a healthcare provider if you are concerned that she is experiencing internal pain.
Try changing your baby’s diet. If you are breastfeeding, following this advice means changing your own diet, of course. Some babies are particularly sensitive to certain foods. Dairy products seem to be the number one culprit; studies have shown that many cases of colic quickly disappear when breastfeeding mothers stop eating dairy products.
Other offenders include eggs, soy, wheat, corn, nuts, citrus, and tomatoes. Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, turnips, radishes, cauliflower, and leafy greens can cause intestinal gas in you and your baby. Junk food with artificial colors and flavors can be hard for babies to digest, as can caffeine, alcohol, and chocolate. Look at your diet to see if it is high in any of these foods, and try reducing or eliminating them. If your baby is bottle-fed, you can try switching formulas, although this has not proven to be very effective.
Try changing your feeding routine. Offer smaller, more frequent feedings, for example. Feed your baby before the crying spell usually begins. Burp him often. Try keeping the baby in an upright position while you feed him.
One Australian study found that mothers who tried to nurse only on one side per feeding significantly reduced their babies’ colic–perhaps because the babies got more high-fat hindmilk. (The mothers were encouraged, however, to feed their infants whenever they were hungry, and to offer the other breast if the baby still was not satisfied.)
Reduce stress in your baby’s environment. Try to decrease any anxiety you are communicating. Slow down your pace. To eliminate as much overstimulation as possible for both your baby and you, provide a low-key atmosphere, with soft music and no startling noises.
Massage your baby. Massaging the stomach can aid digestion. A half-hour or so after a feeding, using the technique described in “Crying is Healthy,” massage your baby’s stomach in a clockwise motion with your fingertips. Repeat this circling motion several times, folding the baby’s legs up to his stomach. Your efforts may be rewarded with a release of gas. Continue with an all-over body massage.
Try the “colic carry.” Place your baby on your forearm, with your hand between her legs and her head supported in the crook of your arm. Her head will be slightly higher than her feet, and her stomach will be resting on your forearm. Rock her gently back and forth as you hold her securely in this position. This is a great carry for dads.
Try herbal remedies. Fennel, dill, catnip, and chamomile have all been reported to help colic. Make a tea of these herbs, alone or in combination, and take it yourself before nursing, or give your baby 10 to 20 drops of the tea with an eyedropper. Some people like Gripe Water, a commercial colic product that combines organic ginger, fennel, and chamomile.
Try homeopathic remedies. Many colic cases have been resolved very quickly with the right homeopathic treatment. Some common homeopathic remedies for colic include colocythis (bitter cucumber), magnesium phosphorica, and dioscorea villosa (wild yam). Hylands offers homeopathic Baby Colic Tablets.
Try chiropractic remedies. Chiropractors have found a high incidence of abnormality in cervical and thoracic spinal joint function in colicky infants. If an infant has a spinal disturbance, caused by birth trauma, chiropractic treatment has been shown to resolve or minimize colic.
Comfort your baby. Try the suggestions in “Crying is Healthy,” including holding your baby, rocking him in a rocking chair, carrying him in a sling, and getting in a bath together.
Take colic seriously. Do not let anyone trivialize the very real pain you, your child, and your family are experiencing. Take care of yourself. Accept offers from friends or family to help out. Nap when you can.
Do not take the baby’s behavior personally. Although some people may try to blame you by suggesting that the baby is reacting to nervousness on your part, no correlation has been shown between babies with colic and anxious parents. If you are tense, it is probably a result of dealing with a colicky child rather than a cause of it!
Above all, resist the temptation to label your baby “difficult.” You have a very sensitive child. Give your child the latitude to adjust to the world with the reassurance of your love. Although it may not seem like it at the time, three months—the usual course for colic—will go by quickly.
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded Mothering.com in 1995. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.