A crying baby. Tired, frustrated parents. If you’ve been there, you know the anxiety that an inconsolable baby can bring to a household. From lack of sleep to the diminished ability to bond with baby, a colicky period is a stressful time for all involved.
It is important that a proper diagnosis is made and that other potential, more urgent conditions are ruled out first. Colic is often diagnosed when there is nothing else the crying can be attributed to and when the baby is otherwise eating well and an appropriate weight. Little is truly understood about what causes colic, rather it is diagnosed by the cluster of signs that are present:
- Crying that lasts at least 3 hours a day,
- Occurring at least 3 days per week, and
- Persists for 3 or more weeks.
Other signs are irritability, arched back, or drawing up the legs, implying abdominal pain or discomfort. The colic diagnosis is fairly common, affecting 20-39% of infants between the ages of 2 and 12 weeks. It is also more common for the crying bouts to occur in the late afternoon or evening.
Because we do not know the exact cause of colic, it is difficult to say which solution may be the answer for you and your baby. There are several theories that may begin to unravel the cause of colic, including:
- Immaturity of the central nervous system
- Gastrointestinal intolerance to proteins in breastmilk or formula
- Stress in the environment
- Other gastrointestinal variables like excess gas, intestinal hypermobility, digestive hormone imbalance, or an imbalance of gut microbes
It is important to remember that crying is the main way babies communicate that they have a need that needs to be met. This could be anything, including being overtired, overstimulated, hungry, thirsty, a need for comfort, wet diaper, etc. But it may also be a more distressing problem in which the baby is experiencing pain or discomfort almost on a daily basis. It may take time and trial and error to determine what your baby needs, but here are several things that you can try to eliminate colic and bring peace to your household once again.
TIPS FOR ELIMINATING COLIC:
- All of baby’s needs are met and the home environment is stable.
These are the obvious. Baby is clothed in the appropriate size and amount of clothing. Diaper is dry. Baby has been fed and is not dehydrated. The room is an appropriate temperature. Your daily schedule allows for a consistent routine. There are no stressors in the environment, like loud noises or recurring family disputes.
Baby is sensitive to mom’s emotional state, so be sure to take care of yourself and, as difficult as it may be, be relaxed and comforting when interacting with your colicky baby.
- Find the soothing method that your baby prefers.
Chances are you have already tried several methods to calm baby; however, there are a variety of ways to soothe and every infant is different. Some babies like to be rocked or bounced, or be held while you walk. Others benefit from a car ride or gentle vibration. Swaddling, baby-wearing, or co-sleeping may provide a feeling of security and comfort. White noise may also help, so try a sound machine or running the vacuum, dishwasher, or dryer nearby at an appropriate volume. Soft singing or talking may also be soothing for baby.
Brain maturity plays a large part in the susceptibility of an infant to overstimulation. While all babies have immature brains, it appears that colicky babies are more easily overstimulated, so that when they begin crying they simply cannot return to their non-crying state with ease. This may be one reason why babies are said to “grow out of it” – once the brain mature enough, the baby is no longer overstimulated by their own crying. These babies often respond better to soothing by white noise, darkness, and swaddling, rather than bouncing or rocking.
- If you are breastfeeding, mom’s diet, overactive letdown, or breastfeeding patterns may be contributing factors.
Any food that is irritating or a gas-producer for mom should be avoided. These are often dairy products, broccoli, cabbage, and spicy foods (just to name a few), but could also be soy, nuts, gluten, eggs, or food additives. It is often difficult to truly determine if part of mom’s diet is the culprit, but if you think this might be a factor, there is ample information available about elimination diets that may be useful. It is not advised to restrict mom’s diet too much, however, because there are specific nutrient requirements that still must be met. Taking digestive enzymes may assist mom’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients, which would also improve the quality of her breastmilk.
Overactive letdown will force baby to drink too fast. These babies typically begin to nurse then stop after a few second or minutes, or they refuse the breast all together because it has been repetitively irritating to them. Other signs of overactive letdown are coughing, choking, or struggling while nursing. To help ease the rate of flow, try nursing from only one breast per feed. Changing mom’s position can also help. Lying back with baby and mom belly to belly, gravity will help to slow the rate of milk flow.
The contents of breast milk changes the longer a baby nurses. The amount of lactose is greater at the start of nursing, while the amount of fat increases as the baby ingests more and more milk. Switching to the other breast too early would limit the amount of fat baby takes in, thereby limiting calories and satiety, and also result in a larger quantity of lactose in the baby’s stomach. This imbalance between lactose and fat may make digestion difficult for baby. There simply may not be enough lactase to breakdown such a large quantity of lactose, leading to symptoms of lactose intolerance, although this is not truly lactose intolerance. Allowing baby to nurse fully at one breast before offer the other would help reduce this problem.
- If you are formula feeding, your baby may have a sensitivity to what’s in the formula.
Some babies cannot tolerate lactose in formula made from cow’s milk. In these cases, soy formula is often recommended by pediatricians, but this may be a poor alternative. There is evidence to suggest that the phytoestrogens in soy can disrupt hormone balance, and that nutrients in soy are poorly absorbed. Lactose-free formula may be a better option if formula if your food of choice.
Constipation may be triggered by the iron content in formula, so take note of the frequency of baby’s bowel movement, making sure it’s appropriate for the age of your baby.
- If you are bottle feeding, baby may be drinking too fast and/or swallowing air.
If baby is done drinking within 20 minutes, try a nipple with smaller holes to slow down the flow. Also, special bottles or bag inserts designed to limit swallowing air may help prevent excess gas in the intestinal tract.
- Add a probiotic.
The human intestinal tract is full of microbes (normal gut flora) that assist in the digestion process and/or provide nutrients. Some babies will have an imbalance in this gut flora, due to cesarian birth or other factors. One study demonstrated that adding a probiotic to a standard milk-based formula reduced the incidence of colic in a group of infants versus the group of infants that only had the milk-based formula.
- Chiropractic care provided by a pediatric chiropractor.
Several studies suggest that colic symptoms may be associated with poor joint motion in the spine or cranium and that chiropractic adjustments may help. While chiropractic adjustments do NOT treat colic, they do allow proper movement in the skull and spinal bones, which in turn allows the body to function better overall. Some babies have difficulty latching on or producing a strong sucking motion, both of which can cause swallowing of air and can be improved by optimizing jaw motion and/or cranial bone alignment.
Chiropractic adjustments provided by a chiropractor trained to care for infants and children are gentle and specific. Very light finger pressure is used, without any twisting or cracking. If you are nervous about having your baby adjusted, be open with your chiropractor about your concerns before having an adjustment done.
Dr. Rana Slatton at Wellspring Chiropractic in Roswell, Georgia has advanced training to properly care for young, developing spines. She will gladly speak with you about what is involved in infant adjusting and discuss any concerns you may have. Dr. Rana places great importance on providing chiropractic care for the whole family in a caring environment without nervous tension from unanswered questions.
Have you already tried options 1 through 6 and are ready to see how chiropractic can soothe your colicky baby? Call and schedule your Complimentary Consultation to get started today!