Any parent will tell you that colic is one of the most excruciating experiences of early parenthood. The baby cries as if in dire pain, and there just seems to be nothing for a parent to do. A baby is suspected to have colic if, around the age of three weeks, the baby starts crying inconsolably for hours at a time. The condition is termed ‘colic’ because it was assumed that babies were crying due to stomach pain. Doctors are no longer sure that a stomach ache causes colic, but the term continues to be in use.
The first step is to ascertain the cause of distress. Newborn babies often cry because of hunger, earache, wetness or cold. If these factors can be safely ruled out, crying can be attributed to the mysterious colic. Sometimes little tummies do not agree with the protein in traditional baby formula or from a mother’s milk. After consulting your doctor, change the formula. Switch to a soy-based formula. Even in breastfed babies, an excess of cows’ milk products in the mother’s diet can cause tummy aches. Root vegetables and highly acidic food products like chocolates, tomatoes, or grapefruit in the mother’s diet can also upset the stomach of a feeding infant. Gas producing food like broccoli, cabbage, onions, cauliflower, peppers, and citrus fruits may all become suspect at such a time. Your doctor may advise you to go on an exclusion diet for some time. Most newborns outgrow their sensitivity to food and become naturally vigorous and robust within three to six months.
If the baby is being breastfed, it is necessary to feed on demand. The evening hours see a decline in production of milk. Feeding the baby often during these hours will ensure an abundant supply of milk. If the baby is being bottle-fed, care must be taken to hold the bottle properly, so that there is no swallowing of air. Patting the baby gently on the back after each feeding is another effective method of releasing gas. With the increasing incidences of cot deaths, doctors advise parents to put their babies to sleep on their back. However sometimes babies with colic like to lie on their stomachs. This is safe, so long as you are awake and vigilant.
Doctors sometimes attribute colic to maternal stress. It’s only natural for mothers to get stressed when little babies cry until they are red in the face. But babies are very sensitive to stress and a mother whose nerves are frayed cannot calm a distressed baby. At such a time, mothers should get extra help and spend some time away from the scene. Take a warm bath or go for a stroll.
Traditionally, colicky babies have been fed with gripe water approximately half an hour before feeding. But these products should be checked for their ingredients. Some may contain artificial ingredients and preservatives. Sensitive digestive systems of colicky infants can definitely do without such irritants.
A warm aromatherapy bath calms and soothes the baby. Add a few drops of lavender to warm bath water and gently massage the tummy. This will help relieve painfully trapped gas. Babies also like to be in water.
Small babies need a lot of warmth and security. Swaddling the baby in warm clothes and holding it against the steady soothing rhythm of a parent’s heartbeat can sometimes soothe the baby’s pain. Walking, rocking, and repetitive movements also have a calming effect. Applying gentle pressure on the abdomen will help relieve stomach ache. This position is known as the ‘colic hold.’
Finally, remember colic is a stage in the growth of your baby. This too will pass.