Imagine a tiny baby who just came into this world and needs to deal with air, water, food, medicine, vaccines, bacteria, viruses. Mom’s womb was so cozy and warm and nutritious. Everything worked like clockwork and all of a sudden you are famished, freezing, deafened by sounds and blinded by bright light.
And here comes the dreaded “colic.” It’s like a sword of Damocles that hangs over all expecting parents.
Colic isn’t a scientific term to identify any particular ailment your baby may have. In fact, nobody really knows what colic is and why it happens to some babies but not others.
You can’t predict it and you can’t entirely fix it until it fixes itself around a 3-month mark. But you CAN manage some common culprits that cause colic and return some sanity home when the crying lasts for hours and your heart is breaking because you feel helpless.
Not all the babies will have colic, but all the babies will have some trouble adjusting to this world in the first three months of their lives. Acid reflux, gas, intestinal imbalance and allergies – all cause little tummies to ache. I didn’t have a full-blown colic, instead I had predictable digestive issues. And those issues made me cry. A lot.
Until my Mom figured out a few ways to minimize the environmental impact on my tiny body. And it worked!
Here are 6 simple and effective tips to manage and alleviate colic:
1. Intestinal Imbalance & Probiotics
Probiotics have been the buzz word for several years now. Multiple celebrities tell us that probiotics are good for you (think Activia). But what about babies? Many wonderful products on the market can help babies build up the good bacteria populations in their fragile intestines. Which one to choose?
When I was 2 weeks old, Mom’s friend recommended BioGaia ProTectis. We never looked back.
The dosage is 5 drops. Each drop contains millions of good Lactobacillus reuteri, bacteria which, in addition to helping maintain healthy intestinal flora, fight off harmful infections and mediate the body’s immune system. Added bonus – it comes with Vitamin D, so vital for baby’s proper bone development.
Need another reason to give your baby probiotics? And (ta-dah!) it has been proven to reduce colic. That’s right, scientifically proven!
The Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition came out with a research article on the subject “Infant Colic – What Works: a Systematic Review of Interventions for Breast-Fed Infants” which concluded that after 21 days of administering Lactobacillus reuteri the overall mean reduction in crying time was 56 minutes! Can you imagine – giving your baby 5 drops of BioGaia alone will give you almost a whole extra hour of quiet time?! By the way, Mom gives these magic 5 drops to me to this day.
Mom contacted the BioGaia company directly and got the confirmation that 5 drops were safe for newborns, the package dosing instructions were confusing.
I have not had a single diarrhea in my life, people.
2. Homemade Gripe Water
You have heard (or will hear if you are expecting) about Gripe Water. It’s supposed to help with the baby’s tummy issues, like gas, upset stomach and, you guessed it, colic. Gripe Water is made up of fennel-based herbal ingredients mixed with some chemicals. Some Moms swear by it.
Every brand claims their’s is the best and most effective. But my Mom didn’t want to infuse me with this foreign blend at a tender age of 2 weeks.
The main ingredient of any Gripe Water recipe is fennel seed extract. Chinese, Indian, Greek cultures have traditionally used fennel seeds to combat digestive issues including gas, heartburn and bloating. All of these culprits can cause colic.
So let’s make some tea.
Put one teaspoon of Fennel Seed and one teaspoon of Dill Seed into the tea ball strainer. Put the strainer into the sanitized mug and fill it with 1 cup of boiling water. Let it seep for 10 minutes. Take the strainer out and pour the tea into the sanitized mason jar. A 4 oz jar works best. You can drink the rest of the tea yourself. Let it cool, then refrigerate and discard after one week. Make fresh tea and repeat.
How To Administer:
Using a feeding syringe, give your baby 1-2 cc (cubic centimeters) which is about 1-2 ml (or 1/4 – 1/2 of a teaspoon) of warmed up (to at least room temperature) tea 3-4 times a day and once before bed time.
Hold baby in the upright position and release the liquid in small amounts aiming at the cheek inside the mouth, never squirt in the throat direction to avoid gagging.
If this coincides with feeding, give the tea 10-15 minutes after the feeding because gas forms after a meal. You can start with a very low dose to test your baby’s tolerance to the ingredients and then increase it if your baby takes it well. Do not exceed half a tea spoon per one intake until the baby is at least 3 months old.
By the way, the same article I mentioned above found that giving babies fennel preparations reduced crying time by an overall mean average of 72 minutes! Amazing. And we are not even half way through the list of tips.
3. Gas-Relieving Tips
When babies are born, they have to learn everything – how to breathe, how to eat, how to sleep … and how to pass gas. Their digestive systems are so fragile after birth because all of a sudden completely foreign substances are entering their bodies with every breath.
Intestinal imbalance follows – see Tip #1 above to fix that. Babies will also inhale lots of air during crying and feeding which produces excess gas and causes pain in that little tummy.
Babies do not know the mechanism of passing gas, their muscles need to learn how to push it out (La Leche League).
Here is what my Mom did to help me.
≡ Burp, burp, burp – the more air you get out of the baby right after the feeding the less of it will pass through the digestive system and turn into gas.
≡ Put the baby on the stomach as frequently as possible (not right after feeding, though, duh). This will not only help build muscle strength, but will also push at least some gas out.
≡ Perform tummy massage. Lay baby on the back and pressing gently massage around the belly button in a CLOCKWISE direction about 10 circles, then stop. Alternate this move with the next exercise.
≡ Bicycle legs or double knees to the chest exercises. Both help with relieving gas. The second one is more effective though. Lay baby on the back, take both legs in your hands and bend in knees. Bring the knees to baby’s chest and push gently yet firmly for 2 seconds, then straighten the legs.
Repeat several times until you hear baby passing gas – you will hear it, trust me. Both of these moves will strengthen baby’s leg and abdominal muscles as well. Plus, baby will love the attention and exercise!
4. Acid Reflux Relieving Tips
Acid reflux may be a serious medical condition in some babies, so consult your doctor if you suspect it. Acid reflux is also a culprit for colic. The most common advice to alleviate mild or silent acid reflux:
≡ Always keep baby at a slight angle while feeding – baby’s head needs to be above the stomach level.
≡ Adjust baby’s sleeping space. If baby sleeps in a bassinet or a crib – put something underneath the mattress to elevate one side of the mattress – use a phone book or a towel to create that slight angle. Do not overdo it! The angle shouldn’t be more than 30 degrees. (STOP doing this once your baby starts rolling or moving around in the crib. Sleeping with head below the leg level can cause serious injury or death!)
For babies sleeping in parent’s bed – there are special wedge pillows on the market. Choose a wide pillow like this one – wide enough to be safe.
An alternative for naps – Serta Infant Napper – positioned at the right angle, this product will reduce reflux as well while baby is napping during the day.
≡ Mom may need to adjust her diet during the first few months of breastfeeding while baby’s digestive system is maturing. See Tip #5 below.
5. Mom’s Diet in Breastfed Babies
It is a controversial subject. The information out there is confusing. Some breastfeeding-support organizations (like La Leche League) and popular parenting sites like kellymom.com suggest that there is no connection between Mom’s diet and baby’s digestive issues. While other sites and mothers on “baby forums” tell you to avoid certain foods.
It all depends on the Mom and the baby’s reaction to her milk. If there is no reaction and baby has absolutely no issues (no reflux, no excess gas, no allergies) then you are one of the few lucky ones out there. Congratulations!
But if you are like the rest of moms and babies, there is always something. Of course, you have to talk to your doctor to figure out what causes issues first (and make sure they truly are issues and not the product of your exhausted and sleep-deprived imagination). And then look at your specific diet.
My Mom decided to be on a diet for the first 4 months of my life – the time for my digestive and immune systems to build strength. She avoided dairy, refined sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and raw fruits and vegetables that cause gas.
It wasn’t an impossible diet. She still ate vegetables and fruit, but slightly cooked – or juiced them to aid her own digestion, as discussed here.
If baby has obvious allergic reactions, detect the foods that may cause that. Mom has a friend who could not eat red sauce of any kind (no pizza for her), as her baby would have terrible reflux.
Mom should decide what’s best, though. In the state new Moms are in during the first few months of the baby’s life – the last thing they need to worry about is malnutrition or depression caused by avoiding foods they love, like pizza.
Babies are curious creatures, no doubt about it. Everything is new to them and you want to show them the world and teach them everything.
Please, hold your horses! Sensory overload or overstimulation can be damaging and traumatic to the newborn baby’s psyche and lead to colic. Baby releases the day’s worth of emotions and tensions through continuous unconsolable crying.
You will have plenty of opportunities to take your baby to the grocery store, restaurants, on the train, on the plane, to the moon – if you can afford it – anywhere and everywhere you wish.
But please, give the baby time to acclimate to this world in her cute and quiet nursery first. Give her at least a couple of months. I guarantee you – the more peaceful and UNDERstimulated her environment during this most difficult time – the less crying in the witching hour.
Exclude television, trips to the mall, meeting a dozen new people a day. Let her do what she does best at this point in her life: eat, poop, sleep.
I really hope that these tips will help you and your baby survive the first few months – nobody wants their baby to be in pain or cry for any reason. Managing these 6 culprits potentially causing colic is not a huge task, it requires discipline and consistency to work, just like everything else in life.
Wishing you and your baby peace and calm in this journey!