By Melissa LeBreton
Mother & BHSc Naturopathy
Colic can be very distressing to parents whose baby is inconsolable during bouts of crying. It is estimated between 5-25% of infants have “colicky” type symptoms in the first 3 months of life. Fussing and crying is a normal developmental pattern for the first 3 months or as some may call it the “4th trimester” (coming to terms with the outside world!). The normal developmental crying pattern often peaks at 6-8 weeks and then gradually decreases. However, colic can continue beyond this causing stressed out parents and a stressed out baby.
Infantile colic is when an otherwise healthy baby cries for more than 3 hours per day. They may suddenly and unexpectedly stiffen their limbs, arch their backs, clench fists and tighten abdominal muscles and may have a contorted or red face. Crying can occur throughout the day or is generally confined to the evening.
Colic is often given now as a term when a medical diagnosis cannot be reached and there is an unknown source of crying. This again can be very distressing and frustrating. Firstly it is important to rule out organic causes such as reflux or food allergies.
Common causes of colic
The causes of colic are generally not known however there appears to be a physical, medical, dietary and emotional element. It is important to rule out each cause before seeking one source of treatment. What works for one colicky baby may be different for another.
- Immature digestive system. This often will resolve by 3-4 months and is impacted upon by foods via the breastmilk or types of formulas.
- Gas producing foods such as the cabbage family vegetables can cause significant digestive upset in a newborn. Refer to foods that improve digestion of breast milk.
- Research has shown that wind isn’t a likely cause of colic but rather results from the baby gulping in air during a bout of crying causing pain and a bloated abdomen. Swallowing air and flatulence is a normal part of development however there are some babies that seem more prone to wind.
- Immature nervous system and/or overstimulation (visual, auditory). It is best to keep stimulation to a minimum. Babies will also pick up on the stress levels of their mother. Seeking support from friends and family as well as taking nervous system herbs such as Withania can help to keep the mother calmer. Chiropractic care is well placed in treating the nervous system of both mother and baby.
- Imbalanced biorhythms: only experimental research at this stage but there is some evidence to suggest that some babies may have an imbalance of their adrenal hormones. Progesterone is a calming, sleep inducing hormone which is passed through from the mother at birth. If babies aren’t producing enough progesterone and more prostaglandins (which cause strong intestinal muscle contractions) then this increases the likelihood for the fussy, unsettled baby and why at 4 months colic subsides as biorhythms and sleep patterns generally become more organized. However, more research is needed to confirm this.
- Food allergies or intolerances
- Infant reflux/Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Suggestions for the treatment of colic
– Wearing your baby upright in a sling, singing lullabies, playing white noise, rocking and soothing goes a long way in helping you and your baby be calmer. Prepare for the evening upset and have little planned so you can just be there as a comforter.
– Colic tummy massage can be of assistance in moving wind through.
– Avoid overfeeding. Small amounts and frequently.
– Avoid common allergenic and gas producing foods. Gradually start an elimination process and retrial. See foods that improve digestion of breast milk
– Herbal teas with chamomile, fennel, catnip and fenugreek can help break up wind and sooth the digestive system as well as having a calming effect on your baby. Nursing tea.
– Baby probiotics such as bifidobacterium infantis are important in ensuring that the gut flora are in balance to assist proper digestion and reduce wind production as well as ensuring a healthy immune system. After caesarean section babies do not receive the gut flora passed on by the mother causing a disturbance of gut flora and potential digestive upset. This would be an important first step in treating colic in these babies. Probiotics have been clinically proven to reduce the symptoms of colic.
– Homeopathics such as chamomilla and mag phos are safe and gentle remedies that can be very effective in treating colic.
– Chiropractic or Osteopathy may be effective in restoring nervous system function.
– Try wind reducing teats and ensure the bottle is at a 30-40 degree angle when feeding.
– Avoid sucking on empty bottles to reduce air intake.
– Keep baby upright after feeding (over your shoulder or sitting on your lap).
– Burp baby after every feed. Some suggestions: put baby upright over your shoulder and rock back and forth across your shoulder, sitting baby upright on your lap with one hand on his back and the other holding chin, gently rock back and forth. Changing holds can also assist burping. There doesn’t have to be an audible burp to release the air pocket but you will know if the wind is still there as your baby will continue to cry or refuse to feed.
– Respond quickly to your baby cries.
Look after yourself!
Vive Health Naturopaths recommend the following products:
- Bioceuticals Babybiotic – 1 scoop provided mixed with breastmilk or formula at each feed or at least 3 times daily
- Brauer Colic Relief Under 6 months – 0.5ml 4 hourly or every half hour until symptoms relieved. Over 6 months give 1ml every 4 hours or every half hour until symptom relief
- Holle Organic Baby tea – Steep for 5 mins and give 1/4 teaspoon every 2-3 hours
- Anti colic teats – Try different teats and feed at least 30 degrees upright
- Ecostore baby massage oil – Use when doing tummy massage