Colic and your Baby

Common signs of colic in your baby include:

  • episodes of irritability that start in the first few weeks following birth and last 3-4 months
  • visibly distressed infant
  • arms and legs may be pulled close to the body, or infant may be stiff, belly may be tight
  • crying lasts for hours at a time, or occurs several hours a day and several days of the week
  • baby passes gas when crying
  • baby is inconsolable

Colic is one of natures great mysteries. Nobody knows what colic really is, and yet everyone has something to say about it. Scientists have suggested possible causes being: a mother who smoked during pregnancy or who smokes around her baby, the baby’s underdeveloped nervous system, the baby’s maturing digestive tract. For a baby to be diagnosed as colicky, it must be gaining weight appropriately and be other wise healthy. Infants do grow out of colic and there are no lasting medical consequences. In the mean time, here are some tips and home remedies to ease the pain. Keeping a colic-journal is a good idea. It can help you and your care provider better understand the colic and its cause.

Reduce Stimulation: Listening to your baby cry for hours can lead you to tears and cause you great anxiety however babies are incredibly keen at picking up on the emotions of their care givers so it is incredibly important to stay calm. Hug your baby close to you, direct skin-to-skin contact is even better. Rock your baby, and avoid overstimulating lights and noises, though white noise can be soothing.

Breastfeeding: As a baby feeds, breast milk increases in fat. If you switch your baby to the other breast during feeding before he/she has finished feeding on the first side, they are consuming less fat and less calories. This means baby will be hungry more frequently.  Breast milk that is lower in fat is actually higher in milk sugar (lactose). The sugar digesting enzyme (lactase) in baby’s developing digestive tract may not be able to handle such a large quantity of milk sugar causing them to have symptoms of lactose intolerance (crying, gas, diarrhea) which can mimic colic. Switching your infant to a lactose free formula is not the solution. Talk to a lactation consultant, doula, or perinatal naturopathic doctor to ensure your breastfeeding technique is optimal for baby’s health.

Food Sensitivities: If you are breastfeeding your little one make sure to note in your colic-journal what you have eaten in the last 24 hours. Common colic causing foods in breast milk include dairy, soy, peanuts, wheat, eggs, corn, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, caffeine and chocolate. Removing these triggers from mom’s diet can significantly impact baby’s colic. Breastfeeding must not be prematurely discontinued, mom and baby must receive appropriate nutritional support on this restricted diet. If no benefit is seen after two weeks of removing these foods the dietary restrictions may be lifted. If food sensitivities are thought to be the cause, mom can get a food sensitivity test done. This test examines your immune systems response to 96 different foods that are common triggers.

Herbal Treatments: Studies have shown traditional herbal medicines have a positive effect on colic, specifically reducing crying time. Tea is the most basic and gentle way to introduce herbs to your infants digestive system. Herbs that soothe the digestive system and alleviate gas include: fennel seeds, anise seeds, lemon balm, catnip, and chamomile. To prepare: steep 1 tsp of dried herb in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Let tea cool to room temperature. Give 1tbsp as frequently as every 10 minutes. A dropper is the easiest way to feed the tea to your infant. This fluid should not replace breastfeeding.

Probiotics: A study released earlier this year in the Pediatrics journal found that infants with colic suffered from decreased gut flora diversity. Our digestive tract is covered in lots of healthy bacteria that helps us digest our food and fight off infection. During labour and delivery a baby’s intestinal tract is colonized by the bacteria he/she is exposed to, usually in the vaginal canal. Moms who are placed on antibiotics prior to or during labour have reduced flora. As do infants who are put on antibiotics after delivery. The results of the study released in January 2013 suggest that probiotics may be useful in reducing infant colic by populating their intestinal tract with healthy flora.

When to See Your Doctor: It is important to note that not all inconsolable crying is colic. Make sure that your baby is not in pain for other reasons: injury, illness, or infection. Mom knows her baby best, if she feels something more serious is going on consult a perinatal naturopathic doctor or family physician.

When taking herbs and supplements it is important to consult a naturopathic doctor. Dosing of supplements and natural remedies is important in infants. What is known as the ‘therapeutic window’ is smaller in babies than it would be in a child or adult. A naturopathic doctor will ensure a therapeutic level is achieved while also ensuring the dose isn’t too high. Herbs and supplements are natural, however there is the possibility of an allergic reaction or an interaction with something your infant is currently on.