What to Do About Infant Colic

What to Do About Infant Colic

Colic is one of the many challenges newborn babies (and their parents) might experience.

What is colic? 

Colic is characterized by:

  • constant crying and screaming
  • the baby’s knees are drawn in and arms curled up,
  • a bloated/hard stomach,
  • pain in the intestinal tract, and
  • acute irritability.

Because this colicky crying can last for hours, aerophagia – the swallowing of air – occurs. This causes distention of the bowels, which in turn creates more pain, which causes more crying, and more air is swallowed – a vicious cycle for the new baby in pain and the new parents, sleep deprived and usually at their wit's end.

When – and why – does colic happen?

Colic tends to start around the first two weeks of life and can last for a number of months. There is usually no rhyme or reason as to when the crying occurs, though many parents say evenings are worse, often referring to the “witching hour(s)” of their baby’s cries.

There have been many theories to explain what colic is and why it occurs. Some have blamed lactose intolerance, some feel it is caused by parents’ stress – which a baby can readily pick up on – the baby’s stress, abnormal gallbladder function, higher levels of intestinal hormones and so on. None of these seems to provide adequate answers.

What we do know

Colic is often a result of gas trapped in the intestines. If the mother is breastfeeding, this may be a result of something the mother has eaten, including supplements, herbs, laxatives or something that has caused an allergic reaction.

Foods that commonly cause colic are the gas-forming kind, like cabbage, onions, garlic and spices. Even if your child is not allergic to cow’s milk, be aware that this type of milk is more difficult to digest than mother’s milk because of the protein and the size of fat droplets. The lack of the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in cow’s milk, which is present in mother’s milk, often results in a colicky baby.

Anxiety and fear can also be passed onto the child while breastfeeding and can induce colic.

In other cases, the child is swallowing air from drinking too quickly. Feeding small amounts more often may offer relief or, conversely, feeding on one breast for a longer period may be easier on the child than switching breasts during a feeding.

What to do about colic

The most important thing is to find out why your baby has colic. Just treating the pain will only provide short-term relief. I have always felt that this is a most important distinction.

Children who are affected by colic generally show a wonderful response in the hands of a chiropractor. Most often, I see results within the first week of care, but the care must be directed at the root of the problem, not simply giving the child mere relief.

I have often been asked if there are any nutritional products parents can give their colicky baby to ease their discomfort. If the child is older, mom can try a little slippery elm powder and also test for lactose intolerance, which may produce gas in the bowel.

Nutrition

Many resources show that breastfed babies are less likely to experience colic because mother’s milk contains GLA, an immune booster.

Since certain foods can irritate a baby’s already delicate and quickly growing digestive system, it is important for moms to keep track of their foods to help find those triggers. The following have been known to irritate babies: garlic, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, yeast and sugar, wheat, dairy products, melons, eggs, corn, oranges, chocolate, alcohol and coffee.

Nutritional supplements

If bottle-feeding an infant, adding the contents of one evening primrose oil capsule and one-third of a teaspoon of acidophilus or bifidus combination for infants daily is highly recommended. The evening primrose oil adds GLA which is an important constituent in mother’s milk and the Lactobacillus supplement improves digestion by increasing the intestinal flora.

Herbal remedies

Herbs can be taken by the mother and the baby to soothe and promote healing. As a general rule, herbs administered to babies should be one-third the dose for adults.

  • Diluted fennel tea is soothing and calming for baby’s colic. Give the baby 1 tsp. of diluted fennel tea, three times daily. The mother should drink 1 cup of tea, three times daily.
  • Colocynthis is helpful for colic that is relieved by hard pressure and warmth. Lying on the stomach or pressing hard against the colic helps. The pains have often been brought on by anger.
  • Belladonna is an alternative that should be considered if a colic develops suddenly, and is worse with jarring or touch. The pain comes and goes quickly. The face is hot and red from the pain.
  • Chamomilla is useful when colics are accompanied by anger and frustration. The pain is typically severe. Children will scream in pain. Though it is a common children’s remedy, it is also helpful for adults with these symptoms. Rocking the child helps temporarily if the pain is manageable.
  • Magnesia phosphorica is appropriate for both adults and children when warmth and bending double improves the pain. It is similar to Colocynthis in this respect, but more affected by warmth than by hard pressure.
  • Arsenicum album is recommended for colicky pains that burn. Symptoms for this remedy tend to appear late at night and cause anxiety and restlessness. Warmth and sipping warm drinks feel good. Arsenicum album should also be considered for colics that occur as a result of eating too much ice-cream or drinking cold fluids too quickly.

Image credit: "cry-baby" by Beth CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

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