What is it?
Colic is broadly defined as excessive crying that is recurrent and of an undetermined cause in infants who are healthy.
Crying starts in the baby’s first few weeks and tends to stop by the time it is three to four months old. It is estimated that 20 per cent of infants suffer with colic.
Getting reassurance from an appropriate health professional that there is no obvious reason for your baby’s distress is important. Consult your GP to rule out reasons for excessive crying such as an ear infection, intestinal problems, urinary tract infection, lactose intolerance and reflux. Once other causes have been ruled out and you feel sure that you have looked after all of your baby’s needs such as feeding, changing, bathing, cuddles and sleep you could say that your baby suffers from colic.
Colic rarely lasts for more than three months and usually one or more of the following suggestions will help it resolve much quicker.
Crying lasts for several hours
- Usually worse in the late afternoon and evening
- The baby draws its knees as if in pain and often passes wind
- This happens to both breast fed and formula fed babies although more formula fed babies suffer with it than breast fed
Although there are no known causes of colic, some believe it is due to an immaturity of the digestive system that develops as the baby grows. Based on this belief, some experts in colic have developed the following theories:
Wind getting trapped in the baby’s intestines
Minute bubbles of air are swallowed during the feed, which cause pain and spasm further down the digestive tract in the intestines.
Unfamiliarity of the feelings associated with digestion
Peristalsis or muscle contractions occur all along the digestive tract. The contractions are repeated in waves to propel the food through our digestive system. It is thought that because the nerves of the intestine are not fully developed, the contractions become uncoordinated and spasmodic.Internal spasm caused by an immaturity of the digestive tract
Some babies may have a deficiency of intestinal lactose to break down the amount of lactose in the feed, resulting in undigested lactose building up in the baby’s intestines. Breast milk is especially important for these babies as it contains substances that help to break down the lactose.
Cows milk protein intolerance
This is thought to be due to a hypersensitivity to cow’s milk protein. Recent research is indicating that this may account for a high proportion of colicky infants. Research has shown that these babies are reacting to the cow’s milk protein in their mother’s diet or in formula feeds. When the breastfeeding mothers removed all forms of dairy foods from their diets, or went to a dairy-free prescription formula the signs of colic ceased. Around 50% of these babies have been found to be sensitive to soy protein as well.
For many years colic has been blamed on anxious, inexperienced parenting. There is absolutely nothing to support this theory! But… pain causes stress and if you can help baby to stay calm, they may deal with it a little easier.
According to research an active, awake, busy and tense baby is more likely to have colic.
Food sensitivities through the mothers milk
Many mothers have found that eating certain foods seem to make their baby’s colicky; some babies are especially sensitive to caffeine. Try to eliminate any foods that you think are making your baby upset for a few days to see if there is an improvement. Potential problem foods include wheat, eggs, fish, peanuts, other nuts, chocolate, alcohol, citrus fruit, spices, cola and carbonated drinks in general.
This is when the baby regurgitates the acidic stomach acid back into the mouth or oesophageaous. This is just like heart burn for an adult and can be quite painful. This is a medical condition which has similar signs as colic. Many mothers confuse this with normal positing which will happen shortly after a feed. Positing is simply bringing up undigested milk after a feed. The vomit associated with reflux mostly has a vomit-y kind of smell due to it being partially digested and may be bought up long after a feed.
Spinal functional disturbance
Incorrect positioning of the spine, can interfere with the vagus nerve, which is involved with the workings of th
e digestive system. This is called a spinal functional disturbance, and can be rectified through a visit to a chiropractor who will apply slight pressure to correct the spines alignment.
Digestive upset from an imbalance in gut flora
Thrush, antibiotics and colic are often linked. B vitamin supplements taken in a Breastfeeding mother can occasionally be linked to colic symptoms.
Common breastfeeding problems that can cause colic
- Feeding position
- Not bringing up wind after a feed
- Latching onto a nipple incorrectly so that air is sucked in while feeding
- A fast flow of milk or a strong let down reflex will also cause your baby to gulp air
- If bottle fed, too large a teat size can also cause air to be sucked in
If you think that Breastfeeding issues are contributing to your baby’s problem you can ask a question using the contact page or leave it as a comment below and I can provide more individualised information.
Ease parent’s stress
The more calm you are, the more comfort you can be to your baby. Below are some suggestions which may help to de-stress tired and frustrated parents.
- Take time out away from your baby- Even a 15 minute walk around the block can do wonders to bring things back into perspective. Let your partner, friends and family help you. Let them know you need help
- Use soothing essential oils of lavender, geranium and chamomile in a bath or put some drops on the shower floor before you turn the water on
- Create a calming relaxed environment by putting your favourite music on (try our collection of soothing nature sounds and music tracks), dimming the lights and drinking a soothing herbal tea such as chamomile, ginger and peppermint. All of these teas are also good for easing baby’s digestive pains if you think this is the problem
Ease your baby’s stress
- You could try a warm bath before feeding to help relax your baby. Add 1 drop of either Chamomile or lavender essential oil to the bath.
- Use the above essential oils for a massage
- Follow the feeding by soothing singing, gentle music, rocking, patting and burping.
- Colicky babies tend to enjoy being carried around in a front pouch. This provides abdominal pressure, heat and comfort to your baby.
- If formula feeding use goat formula and add ½ t of infant probiotic powder twice daily.
- The risk of food allergy increases if you have a family history of food allergies such as asthma, eczema or hay fever.
- Common food intolerances include wheat, dairy, soy, nuts and food additives. You could try eliminating these foods from your diet for a two week period and re-introduce them one at a time every 4 days. You can email me for help with the practicalities of this such as substitutes for common foods and recipes.
- For an easier approach you could try totally avoiding one or two of these foods for two to three days and if you notice no change in your baby you can once again include that food in your diet. It is not as effective as the previous suggestion as your baby could be sensitive to several of these foods and so will continue to show signs of discomfort even though you eliminate one of the causes.
Dill water- Can be given to your baby via breast milk. Mum can take 3-4 cups of dill tea per day or you can give it to your baby on a teaspoon or in a syringe. For young babies, it’s best to give via the breastmilk. Older babies (4 months plus) can have it directly.
See Homoeopathy for you baby info for information about using and storing homoeopathic remedies then choose from one of the remedies specifically suited to colic below.
- The baby can’t be satisfied, but seems to improve when carried around.
- Pain seems unbearable .
- You may feel quite a hard bloated stomach.
- Stools may be green loose, look like chopped spinach and smell like rotten eggs.
- Firm pressure on the stomach relieves the symptoms.
- The baby wants to curl up, these babies will often pull their legs up to their stomach and scream if they are moved.
- Stools are green and pasty.
- Better for passing a stool.
- Spasms relieved by warm and gentle pressure.
- Hard, knotty green stools.
- The baby may be visibly straining to pass a stool but will be unable to do so.
- The baby is irritable, screams at the slightest movement and wants to be still.
- The baby appears exhausted but is unable to sleep.
- Where the breastfeeding mother has eaten spicy food or indulged in alcohol.
- Alternating constipation and diarrhoea.
- Better for passing a stool and for passing wind.
See Using Reflexology With Your Baby for general guidelines and safety considerations.
This is a routine that is designed to release nervous tension and stored muscle tension particularly in the stomach area. It balances your baby’s energy and encourages elimination.
Use this reflexology foot chart to help you identify the areas talked about below.
1. Relax both feet with relaxation techniques and end with a thumb press on the solar plexus point in both feet.
2. Work on the points suggested below:
- Chest area
- Bladder and kidneys
3. Finish the session with relaxation techniques and a thumb press on the solar plexus point of each foot.
- See Using Aromatherapy With Your Baby for general guidelines and safe usage instructions
- Useful essential oils for colic are lavender, chamomile and dill
- Use only age appropriate oils. Click for guidelines for using aromatherapy with your baby. (link to aromatherapy in the therapies section)
- To help colic, oils are best applied in a massage oil.
- Massage paying particular attention to the abdominal area- see here for instruction on massaging the stomach area.
- Oils are also good in a warm bath- It may be helpful to run a nice big fairly warm bath, add appropriate oils and get into the bath with your baby. You can lay your baby on your chest, providing pressure to the abdominal area, heat and aromatherapy all at the same time.
- Lay your baby down on the back. Preferably on a comfortable surface on the floor to prevent falls.
- With the palm of your hand near the top of Baby’s rib cage, bring your hand down in a sweeping motion, gently pressing his tummy. The point is to work any air bubbles down and out, as well as to relieve any built-up pressure. Repeat this a few times
- Place your finger tips over Baby’s belly button area and massage gently and slowly in a clock-wise, circular motion. Continue for 30 seconds or so. This helps Baby pass any little air bubbles in the intestines and also helps stimulate his bowls if required.
- Lastly, take hold of your baby’s ankles and gently press the legs toward the chest and hold for a few seconds. Repeat several times. You can also “pedal” his legs in a cycling motion and alternate between the two motions.
If you want to know more about baby massage, see The Gentle Art Of Baby Massage.