WHAT IS COLIC?
All babies cry, usually 1 or 2 hours a day. It’s their way of telling you that they’re wet, hungry, tired, in pain, or lonely.. But some babies cry a lot more than others. If a baby cries for more than 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, it’s called colic.
Colic is quite common, appearing in up to 1 out of 3 infants. It usually starts when the baby is between 2 and 4 weeks old, and usu¬ally disappears at around 3 months of age. The symptoms can vary in how intense and how frequent they are. A child suffering from colic is usually healthy, feeds eagerly, has a good appetite, and looks completely fine when not crying.
Colic shows up as bouts of irritability with crying. It’s more common in the afternoon, evening, and night-time hours, so the baby being tired may play a part. None of the usual methods to calm a baby seems to work — neither feeding, nor holding, nor rocking stops the crying.
A typical crying spell usually lasts 4 or 5 minutes. When it’s over, the baby relaxes a little, and is just about to fall asleep when the next spell starts. You can often hear movement in the intestines and gases bubbling in the stomach. The concept of colic comes from the traditional view of the problem being caused by cramps in the digestive system.
WHAT CAUSES COLIC?
The cause of a baby’s colic is very hard to figure out. According to international studies, bottle-fed children are just as likely to develop colic as breast-fed children. Some researchers have found that colic is more common in industrialized countries like ours. Colic is more common in first-born children. There may be a connection between colic and difficult birth. And, stress and isolation might play a role.
Another possible cause of colic is if the baby’s stomach and intestines trap extra air that was sucked in while feeding, and the baby isn’t able to burp during or after the meal.
Swedish researchers have discovered that cow’s milk sometimes affects colic, too. Their studies showed that cow’s milk contains substances that can cause colic. If a breast-feeding mother is eating or drinking any dairy products (milk, cheese, butter, ice cream, etc.) these substances might be transferred to the baby.
AVOIDING DAIRY PRODUCTS
Because a breast-feeding mother’s consumption of dairy products may contribute to her baby’s colic symptoms, a first step might be to stay away from all dairy products for 3 or 4 days. This relieves the problem in about 1 out of 5 colicky babies. If avoiding dairy products works, keep doing this. But be sure that you receive enough calcium — calcium supplements can help.
If you’re bottle-feeding, find out what’s in the formula. Some formulas are based on cow’s milk; they are particularly likely to cause colic in some babies. Experimenting with different formulas may help solve the problem.
PREVENTING TRAPPED AIR
Try reducing the amount of air your child is swallowing by becoming aware of what’s going on at meal-time. Does the baby suck very vigorously? Is it easier to burp him or her if you take small breaks in the feeding? Is it better to lay the baby on his or her tummy after the meal, perhaps with the main part of the body slightly elevated? Are the holes in the baby bottle’s nipple too small or too big? Are there other things in the diet or environment that could contribute to the unrest?
PEACE AND SECURITY
Parents worry when their baby cries and they’re unable to comfort the child. The baby might sense that worry, and react by crying even more. Plus, when crying, the baby usually swallows air again, and the vicious circle continues.
Mother and child are so “in tune” with each other that they can be very sensitive to stress and other tensions in their environment. It is, therefore, important to try to stay calm in this stressful situation. The crying spells probably don’t mean that there’s anything seriously wrong with the baby or with you as a parent. But if the doctor hasn’t already confirmed that your baby has colic, make sure you check with the doctor first, to make sure that nothing more serious is going on.
Some colicky children do better in peaceful surroundings. You might try limiting the amount of loud noise, number of visitors, and other forms of stimulation, particularly during feedings. Look at the baby and talk to him or her in soothing, loving tones. Try a baby massage, gently patting and stroking your child. During the crying spells, try putting on some soft, peaceful music that you liked to listen to when you were pregnant. Put the baby in your lap and gently, slowly rock in a rocking chair or hammock. Sometimes, these methods work quite well.
Many parents have found that colicky babies are soothed when they’re taken for a ride in the car (secured in a car seat, of course). You can use a ride to “test” if a baby rocker might help. An odd-sounding alternafive is to put the baby in a car seat and place him or her on a running clothes dryer. If you do that, be absolutely sure that you keep a hand on the baby at all times, so he or she doesn’t get vibrated off the dryer!
These methods use a combination of vibrations and continual sound that can distract :he baby’s attention from the discomfort colic brings. He or she may be able to recognize songs and music you played during the pregnancy. It’s important to use these methods at an early stage, though. Their effect gradually wears off such that past 3 months of age, it’s not likely that they’ll help much anymore. Babies that age are less easily distracted, and they may have even learned to get some comfort from screaming.
It has been proven that mothers who smoke are more likely to have colicky children than non-smoking mothers. If you — or others around the baby — smoke, see whether the colic improves if you stop.
MEDICINES AND HERBS
Some babies respond well to fennel or caraway tea. These herbs can be found in the seasonings section of the grocery store or health food store. Boil 1 teaspoon in 3-1/2 ounces of water for 2 minutes. Let the mixture steep for 2 more minutes. Then, strain with a strainer or some cheesecloth. Give 1 teaspoon to the child at each feeding. A doctor trained in homeopathy can prescribe a natural remedy that may help, too.
Some doctors recommend simethicone drops, which get rid of some of the intestinal gases. These drops work very well, and they usually have no side effects. Ask your doctor or the local pharmacist for some guidance. In more serious cases, the doctor may prescribe something stronger.