Colic is one of the conditions that could be responsible for your baby’s unsettled behaviour. Babies with colic often scream for hours on end and they cannot be soothed by normal methods such as feeding and cuddling.
The symptoms are often worse late in the afternoon and early evening. Of course this is when you are most tired and trying to put dinner on the table.
Colicky babies pull their legs up towards their tummies, clench their fists and arch their backs in pain.
They appear to be gassy and bloated and are in obvious discomfort. Up to 40% of babies born may suffer from colic type symptoms in their first weeks of life. Their sleeping patterns are disturbed, as are those of their exhausted mums!
How do you know if your baby has colic?
Firstly you need to discuss your baby’s symptoms with a health professional – your GP or pediatrician, your maternal health nurse, your lactation consultant or your pharmacist.
Do NOT be put off by uninformed answers such as “All babies cry.” Of course all babies cry – it is their only means of communication.
However they should not cry for hours at a time and they should not appear to be in pain.
You are a mum and you need to keep asking questions and doing your research to make sure you get the help you need.
What causes colic?
Very good question! As a pharmacist, I believe the most common cause is immature gut. Babies are born without the necessary digestive bacteria to cope with all the milk they need to drink to put on weight, grow and develop.
Some babies cope well and their gut flora develops quite quickly and colic is not a problem, However other babies, particularly those from a caesarean delivery which is often followed by antibiotic therapy, have trouble coping and colic symptoms appear quite early in their development.
These babies are often full of wind and the intestinal discomfort results in hours of uncontrollable crying, wriggling and disturbed sleep.
Always remember it is not your fault that your baby has colic. It is just a set of circumstances that result in a very unsettled baby and an exhausted mum.
What can you do about colic?
Fortunately there are lots of things you can try:
- There are medications you can use, many of them containing natural herbs.
- Dietary changes in breastfeeding mums can help a lot to prevent wind in babies. Also be aware that some babies may have a lactose or milk protein intolerance and excluding dairy from mum’s diet may have a positive effect. You don’t need to drink milk to make milk! However if no change is detected after two weeks, it is probably not worth persisting with restricted diets.
- Having regular feeding routines with at least three hours between feeds places less strain on the baby’s digestive system.
- Introducing a probiotic for both baby and a breastfeeding mum could hasten the gut maturity in the baby and shorten the colic weeks. Ask your health professional for a recommendation.
- See a lactation consultant to ensure your feeding technique is not allowing your baby to take in too much air whilst feeding.
- Ensure you have feeding breaks to burp your baby. Don’t get too hung up on this though – it is not worth patting a crying baby on the back trying to get a burp as this just adds more air to the baby’s stomach.
- Motion and background noise may help to soothe a distressed baby. The womb is a mobile noisy place and absolute quiet may be frightening to a newborn.
- Swaddling. The womb is also fairly cramped so most babies enjoy being wrapped with their hands up near their face so they can self soothe.
- Dummies can be very useful as the sucking motion can help to calm a distressed baby.
- Cuddling and massage are tactile ways of connecting with your little one and rubbing a colicky baby’s tummy can be very soothing.
How long will my baby suffer from colic?
This is like answering the “how long is a piece of string?” question. Some babies will grow out of colic fairly quickly whilst others will suffer for some months.
All you can do is choose a treatment plan that works for you and your baby, which is usually a combination of techniques.
Ask questions and ask for help and make sure you take a break now and then to recover your equilibrium. Someone else can cope with the crying whilst you take a walk or a nap!
Eventually babies will leave the colic weeks behind but, in the meantime, everyone needs perspective and some sleep and that’s why you need techniques and strategies to help you and your family to cope on a daily basis.
The good news is that colic is a condition not an illness and, despite all the screaming, colicky babies are usually quite healthy and will grow and develop into delightful little toddlers.
For more information on colic click here.