Ideally, having a baby is a joyous experience – but it can also be a very challenging one, especially if your baby has colic. No one can prepare you for the challenges and the impact colic can have on you, your partner and family. Colicky babies tend to cry a lot more than others; those peaceful rest times just don’t seem to come often enough.
Between 5 – 25% of newborns could show signs of infantile colic*, so there are many parents feeling just the way you do! It’s important to remember that, as a parent (even first time around), you possess an innate knowing about when things are ‘not OK’ with your little one.
All babies cry on and off and, as your confidence grows, you’ll become better able to interpret your baby’s different cries and to grasp what your little one is shouting about.
Until you get into a natural rhythm with your baby, it’s normal to feel an array of different thoughts and feelings, including feeling that you’re being a sub-par mom or dad. Remember to be gentle and kind with yourself during this challenging time.
What is baby colic?
Colic affects the stomach and the small and large intestines, causing abdominal pain and discomfort, spasms, inflammation and bloating. It can feel like having a ‘stitch’. Discomfort from the pain can radiate through the whole body, especially around the lower back area.
If your baby…
- is generally restless and fretful
- cries frequently and inconsolably, or screaming, with sudden ear-piercing shrieks
- shows whole body tension
- draws the knees up towards the tummy
- frequently arches his back
- is bloated around the abdominal area most of the time
- frequently passes wind or strains (often accompanied by a reddened face)
- doesn’t establish a good feeding pattern
- clenches her fists
- sleeps poorly
Possible Causes of Colic
It could be possible that if you’re breastfeeding, your baby could be reacting to some of the foods you’re eating. If your baby is particularly disturbed one day, try to remember what you have eaten in the past twenty-four hours. What you eat could be affecting the taste, the level of milk you’re producing or could be some intestinal gas. If a particular food seems suspect, remove it from your diet for a while and see how your baby responds. Likewise if you’re bottle-feeding it could be possible that your baby is reacting to the formula because of a possible lactose intolerance.
Hiccups resulting in milk being brought up after a feed (or at other times) is known as reflux, which can sometimes be confused with colic. If your baby is spitting up a lot it could be a sign of reflux, which occurs when stomach acid regurgitates into the esophagus, causing irritation and pain – it’s a bit like heartburn. Reflux can be a less obvious cause of apparently colicky symptoms or waking during the night.
The Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve starts at the brain stem and travels through the neck into the chest and then into the abdomen. Emotions and state of mind are closely linked to the digestive system and this connection is largely due to the vagus nerve. Your baby’s emotional wellbeing can affect their digestive system, so calming and comforting techniques do more than just soothe your baby – they also help to settle the tummy.
Some stress is good – at the beginning of labor, it actually helps to stimulate the creation of massive numbers of neurons in the brain, so your baby’s brain is primed for new learning once it is born. If, however, there’s a difficult birth or post-birth trauma, stress hormones could continue to stay high after the birth, which could affect your baby adversely. It may lead to your baby’s withdrawing into long periods of sleep, or being unsettled, irritable and colicky.
Spinal Misalignment or Impingement on the Nerves
This might be due to the position the baby was in during the later stages of pregnancy or the birthing experience, some birth trauma or may be due to general tightness and tension being held in the spine and abdomen.
Tightness in the Psoas Muscle
This muscle flexes the hips and brings the legs up towards the chest. In the latter part of pregnancy your baby has been in a tight ball in the womb; this can shorten the psoas muscles, which impedes the abdomen from fully expanding to accommodate a feed.
Some Soothing Suggestions
It’s important to remember that baby colic is self-limiting; the symptoms usually begin to subside at around the age of four to six months as the digestive system matures and begins to work more efficiently. The good thing is that there are many ways to help your baby and yourself. As long as you have checked with a GP or health visitor that there isn’t a more serious underlying problem, then your baby can only benefit from the following gentle soothing suggestions.
A Warm Bath
Being in warm water can be very soothing, and the warmth can help to relax tight muscles and reduce pain. Why not follow a bath with a soothing massage, some gentle baby yoga movements or just a long loving cuddle?
Loving touch is a universal way of expressing love. It helps us to feel nurtured and nourished in our lives; in addition to helping us to feel better, it can promote healing. Touch is a baby’s most powerful sense, so massage is like food for them – they need it! Try doing some gentle massage to the tummy (preferably in a clockwise direction); gentle strokes on the back and feet are lovely too. Why not see if you can join a baby massage class or find a trained baby massage instructor to help you?
Without the restrictions of a diaper your baby can kick and move more freely. This enables them to stretch out tight muscles and allows any trapped wind to move through the colon more freely.
Small gentle movements can help trapped, painful wind to move through the colon and encourage tight and painful muscles to relax. Baby yoga movements may be accompanied by simple songs (Row, Row, Row Your Boat is a favorite!) and can really help to distract and uplift your troubled baby.
Some babies find comfort in movement. You might experiment with:
- using a sling
- taking them out in the stroller
- giving them a ride in the car
- dancing and moving with your baby
Sound / Music
Some babies settle when exposed to repetitive sound. The sound of the car, the vacuum cleaner or even the rhythm of the washing machine can gently distract them and help them to relax. It’s amazing how powerful music can be to distract, relax and uplift your baby. Try putting on some relaxing music or sing some baby songs.
CranioSacral Therapy is a gentle hands-on treatment that could help your baby’s body to naturally unwind, realign and release pent-up emotional trauma.
Look After Yourself
Take regular deep, relaxing breaths, do some shoulder and neck stretches to release built-up tension, take valuable time out when you can to rest, recharge and have some fun. If you’re breastfeeding, try a soothing cup of Slippery Elm Tea (recipe here) to help you relax and treat bay’s colic symptoms. Your baby will benefit from you looking after yourself.
*(Kilgour T, Wade S. Infantile Colic. Clinical Evidence 2005)