As if those first 3-4 months of parenting are not difficult enough with frequent feeds and lack of sleep - a baby with colic seems inconsolable and it is simply an exhausting, stressful time for parents, who wonder if they will ever survive their way through it.
Colic is sharp abdominal pain/cramps babies experience in their digestive system. It may take a few days or weeks for babies to develop colic, but it can continue right through until they are 3-4 months old, (when their digestive system has developed sufficiently to cope) by which time it normally begins to resolve. Your baby may experience constipation or have a change in colour in their stools. Usually their body language will be the best giveaway: pulling their knees up towards their chest (or even stretching them out) and crying.
You may find that your baby experiences a pattern of colic - often worse at night. Or perhaps your baby experiences it throughout the day. Here are some things that you can try:
- If you are breastfeeding: try eliminating foods that disagree with you and consider the foods that you eat a lot of in terms of elimination in case it is affecting your baby. Also consider eliminating foods that have been known to cause colic, such as milk/dairy products, alcohol, tea, coffee, spices (including chillies and pepper), onions, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, capsicums, strawberries, oranges, grapes. Sometimes egg whites or fruit with stones (eg. cherries, apricots) can also be to blame. You may like to eliminate these one-by-one to identify what might be the main culprit. Don’t allow your baby to become too hungry before breastfeeding, otherwise he/she may gulp air prior to feeding. Try different feeding positions so that your baby is not swallowing both milk and air at the same time.
- If you are bottlefeeding: your baby may be swallowing air when feeding. Try finding a teat with a smaller hole (for a young baby) or a bigger hole (for an older baby) There are teats that are sold particularly for babies with colic. There is also on the market formula for babies with colic. Your baby may have trouble with dairy products, so it might be worth discussing with your doctor, midwife or plunket nurse the idea of trying a soy-based formula to see if this might make a difference. Just like breastfeeding mothers, try different feeding positions so that your baby is not swallowing both milk and air at the same time.Offer a dummy after feeding time. The sucking motion can assist your baby’s digestive system, and is soothing.
- Frequent feeding may be something you need to consider when your baby has reflux (we will discuss reflux next week), but it’s worth noting that when you have a baby with colic, it can be tempting to offer a feed in order to comfort your baby - but frequent feeds can cause continuous discomfort due to being overloaded with milk. Try other ways to comfort your baby.
- Comforting your baby instead of feeding: place your baby in a swing, go for a drive in the car, walk or rock your baby, offer a dummy or your finger at the roof of your baby’s mouth to suck (which in turn helps the digestive system as indicated above), play relaxing music. It’s difficult, but try to relax as much as you can although your baby is clearly distressed. If you become distressed, your baby will only become more uptight.
- Positioning & burping: burp your baby more often - and always after a feed, carry baby upright over your shoulder so baby’s tummy is lengthened, or try lying baby across your lap while rubbing baby’s back. Sometimes pressure helps colic: try a rolled up towel on your lap and placing baby’s tummy across it. On the other hand - pressure can also aggravate colic, so placing baby instead over your knees so there is no pressure on your baby’s stomach may be something you might like to try instead.
- Treatment: You could try some homeopathic remedies for colic (found in your local pharmacy) or fennel seed /dill tea. Be careful with gripe water as it may contain alcohol.
- Bowel Movements: Sometimes colic precedes a bowel motion from your baby. You can help by massaging your baby’s stomach in a gentle, circular clockwise motion or hold your baby in a semi-squatting position, pulling baby’s knees up gently while baby’s back rests against your stomach.
- Looking after Yourself: When your baby is not crying with colic, make sure you take some time out for yourself. Get some rest, do something you enjoy. A baby who cries continuously is draining, so you must get help and support so that you can take time out away from baby - leave the house and have some time out on your own or with good friends/family to revitalise you. Don’t try and cope with this on your own.
- Warning Signs: See your doctor if colic persists - especially inconsolable crying (where your baby simply cannot be consoled no matter what you try). Also see your doctor if colic is accompanied with vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation or dry nappies.