Things to know about colic in babies
- Colic is self-limited and episodic.
- Estimates indicate that colic affects 5%-40% of infants worldwide and accounts for 10%-20% of health care provider visits during the early weeks of an infant’s life.
- Overfeeding, undiluted juices, food allergies, and emotional stress can aggravate colic.
- It is important for a doctor to evaluate a baby with new abdominal pain and crying in order to exclude other more serious conditions.
- Don’t give medications or other treatments to an infant unless they’ve been approved by the child’s medical practitioner.
What is colic? What causes colic in babies?
Physicians have recognized infantile colic for a long time. In 1954, Dr. Morris Wessel, a well-known New Haven pediatrician, defined an infant with colic as “one who, otherwise healthy and well-fed, had paroxysms of irritability, fussing, or crying without an obvious cause lasting for a total of three hours a day and occurring on more than three days in any one week for a period of three weeks.” The only modification (Rome IV criteria) of this original “Rule of Three’s” is the notation that colic duration is now “one or more weeks.” It is also important to remember that not all fussy babies suffer from colic. Most infants normally cry two to three hours per day, but the crying spreads out during the 24-hour period.
10 Tips to Soothe Your Crying or Colicky Baby
Swaddling: To you, swaddling might feel like being in a straitjacket. But to a crying, fussy baby, it’s like being back in the womb. How tight do you wrap this baby burrito? Snug enough so she can’t wriggle her arms and legs free.
What are colic symptoms and signs in babies?
The crying or fussing most frequently begins suddenly and often after a feeding. The cry is loud, high pitched, and continuous, and the spells last from one to four hours. The baby’s face often gets flushed or red. The belly is sometimes distended or prominent, the legs alternating between flexed and extended straight out; the feet are often cold and the hands clenched. The episodes, while they can occur at any time of the day or night, typically begin in the late afternoon or early evening, just when parents or caregivers are most exhausted. There are some babies who are more prone to infantile colic than others. If one or both parents were colicky, their baby is more at risk. Infantile colic typically begins at about 2-3 weeks of age, reaches its peak at 2 months, begins to subside by 3 months, and is gone by 3½ to 4 months of age. But the frustrating fact remains that although many babies experience colic and much research has been done on the topic, there is no one proven cause of colic. Some studies found no discernible cause for one-quarter of those babies who suffered from colicky episodes. This reality is very frustrating for most parents.
There are factors that may worsen the colic symptoms amongst all colicky babies:
- Overfeeding in an attempt to lessen the crying
- Feeding certain foods, especially those with high sugar content (for example, undiluted juices), may increase the amount of gas in the intestine and worsen the situation
- The presence of excessive anger, anxiety, fear, or excitement in the household
- A multitude of other factors yet unknown
Natural Medicine For Colic Baby
Let’s ground ourselves in the definition of baby colic. You probably have a colic baby if your baby:
- cries for 3 hours a day,
- for at least 3 days a week,
- for 3 consecutive weeks.
Get free updates on baby’s first year!SIGN ME UP!
Colic Symptoms in Babies
What are some other colic symptoms to look out for?
- Intense crying episodes (sometimes with predictable daily patterns)
- Inconsolable crying episodes with no apparent trigger
- Arching of back, clenching of fists, recoiling to touch, and other physical/posture changes
No doubt about it, mamas and papas can really struggle with feelings of helplessness and frustration when baby has these symptoms. But there is a reason for your baby’s extreme fussiness and there are natural ways to treat a colic baby. (So, don’t despair!)
What Causes Colic in Babies?
The medical community doesn’t really know inconclusively what causes baby colic.
- Some chock it up to a rite of passage that usually begins at a few weeks old to 3-4 months, sometimes longer.
- Others blame it on an immature digestive tract, allergies, a developing brain/neurological system, or high-strung parents.
- Some theorize that colic children are “introverts” and are easily overstimulated.
Of course, it’s always recommended to check in with your pediatrician to rule out any potential issues and provide an accurate diagnosis.
How to Soothe a Colic Baby Naturally
If it does end up being baby colic, thankfully, there are some simple soothe a colic baby naturally and reduce or eliminate colic symptoms. Before implementing any of these remedies, check with your pediatrician first.
1. Rule out baby reflux
The first thing mamas will want to rule out is baby reflux. This condition will often mimic some of the same symptoms as baby colic and can be alleviated with natural remedies. A homeopathic remedy called Nat Phos 6X changed my daughter from a red, colicky child to a calm, happy baby. Be sure to look for the signs and symptoms of baby reflux and, if appropriate, treat this root cause of your baby’s crying.
2. Check in with a lactation consultant
If you’re a breastfeeding mom, this is so essential. There are so many anatomical issues that could be causing your baby grief! Unfortunately, most pediatricians aren’t trained to spot these conditions, so be sure you find an IBCLC-certified lactation consultant. Your baby could have a bad latch. She could be tongue-tied. He could be lip-tied. All of these issues could cause some major colic symptoms!
You also want to be sure baby is getting enough hindmilk, which is higher in fat, calms the stomach, helps with digestion, and promotes satiety. If your baby’s poop is greenish, frothy or mucuosy, this is usually a sign that he’s getting too much foremilk, which can cause digestive distress. This often happens when a breastfeeding mom has an overactive letdown or is having oversupply issues, which is very common in the first few months after giving birth.
3. Follow a clean nursing diet
If you’re a breastfeeding mama, you may also want to give up foods that can trigger baby colic symptoms. Dairy is a huge culprit, as are other common allergens like wheat/gluten, eggs, shellfish, citrus, caffeine, and spicy foods. While it’s certainly no fun to give up some of your favorite foods, it’s worth your effort. After eliminating these foods from your diet, give it a good 2-4 weeks to be sure they are cleared from your body and milk. Consider looking into paleo recipes, as these are often free from the most common allergens.
4. Try a different formula
If baby is formula-fed, your child may be reacting to something in the specific variety you’re using. Some moms find that changing formulas can make all the difference! Check out this post for the best baby formula, and consider trying this homemade formula recipe—it’s alive, rich in bioavailable nutrients, and easier to digest than many powdered alternatives.
5. Be sure baby is well rested
Watch your baby’s signs closely and be sure she doesn’t get overtired. Experiment with wakeful time periods to see what works best. Generally speaking, newborns need to be back to bed within 1-2 hours of waking. For some, it’s only 45 minutes! A good sign that you caught your baby in time is that she goes to bed without any struggle. If he’s crying like crazy, you missed the window. Next time, try putting baby down 15 minutes earlier.
6. Create closeness
In the last weeks of life in the womb, your baby’s environment is snug, dark, cozy, and warm. When babies come out into open space to join the rest of humanity, it can be a jarring and uncomfortable transition. Some even consider the first three months of a newborn’s life the “4th trimester.”
- Babywearing: You can help your colic baby transition to the world by babywearing. The closeness and warmth created by babywearing can soothe colicky babies when nothing else will. Even better, babywear skin-to-skin. Studies show that skin-to-skin contact can regulate baby’s breathing, temperature, heart rate, blood sugar and blood pressure. It can also regulate mood.
- Swaddling: This practice creates some of the comfort and closeness baby is accustomed to. Additionally, some babies wake themselves up regularly with their startle reflex. Others inadvertently scratch themselves. A swaddle will solve both of these problems. Here’s how to swaddle a baby.
- Co-sleep. Some moms bypass the swaddle entirely and co-sleep whenever possible (naps and nighttime). The majority of the world practice this sleeping arrangement. By creating this closeness and warmth, you can help soothe your a colic baby.
7. Create some noise
The womb was not only snug, but it was also noisy. Between mama’s heartbeat and digestion, the sound in utero is intense—my childbirth educator said it’s the equivalent of having a vacuum cleaner on at all times! We like this noisemaker, as it’s fan-based and not too intense. My brother ended up playing a hairdryer CD on repeat to keep his baby boy asleep at night! I’ve also heard amazing things about the Sleep Genius app. When we soothe baby to sleep, you can also make ssshhing noises or hum loudly. This noise can often refocus their attention, comfort them, and reduce crying overall.
8. Let baby suck
Babies have a very powerful sucking reflux that needs to be satiated. Babies have a hand-to-mouth reflex too, which causes them to place their hands, fingers, or fists into their mouth as a way to comfort and soothe themselves. You can also try pacifiers when in a pinch. If baby is breastfed, let him feed on demand as much as possible. Bottom line, let your colic baby use their natural refluxes to comfort and soothe themselves.
9. Get fresh air
Something about the fresh air is magical. When I couldn’t soothe Griffin or Paloma, I’d always bundle us up and head outdoors. The sun, the wind, the birds chirping, the movement, all of these elements helped to shift the mood and comfort my babies.
10. Take warm baths
Alternatively, some babies love a warm bath. It can help soothe their tummies, as well as their spirits. You don’t have to add any soap or bubble bath. Just warm water and a peaceful bathroom environment. You can also warm a wash cloth and put it on baby’s tummy if you don’t want to draw a bath every day.
11. Create movement
With Griffin, I would rock him for hours in my arms. With Paloma, I’d bounce her on an exercise ball for hours. Some moms walk around the house with baby in a sling or put baby in the stroller and walk the neighborhood. Swings and vibrating recliners/rockers can also be fantastic tools for parents of colicky children. Do whatever works for you! The point is movement can calm and soothe an upset child.
12. Do bodywork
Certain baby exercises can do wonders for releasing trapped gas. You can try doing bicycle legs, bent legs, or put their bellies on your thighs for gentle pressure. You can also do gentle baby massage.
Another option is to get your baby adjusted by a chiropractor. Many times, during the birth process, baby’s body gets out of alignment, which can affect everything from sleep, to bowel movements, to digestion. Just be sure to find someone who specializes in infant care. Here’s how to find a pediatric chiropractor near you.
13. Use digestive support
Some practitioners believe colic is related to baby’s immature digestion. The trapped gas, sluggish digestive tract, and acid reflux (all babies have some form) can lead to colic symptoms.
- Try herbal drops, like Dr. Christopher’s Kid-e-Col and gripe water work great.
- Drink fennel tea if you’re breastfeeding to calm baby’s digestive system.
- Try catnip tea, like Secrets of Tea Baby Catnip Tea. Rich in tummy-friendly herbs like catnip, fennel, cumin, and dill, this tea is a tummy tamer. This soothing tea also helps with gassiness and acid reflux.
- Try baby probiotics. Babies need bifida bacteria for their developing digestive systems. The purest infant probiotic on the market, with no added fillers, is available here. (It is very pricey but a little goes a long way and this bottle will probably last your baby’s first year of life!)
- Try homeopathic remedies: Nat Phos 6X is a natural cell salt, something our body already produces, but it can be underproduced in newborns.
The key is to work with your healthcare provider to find the right digestive aid for your baby, if appropriate.
14. Get help
Despite all of our best efforts, sometimes babies just cry and there is nothing we can do to make it better. Watching this unfold as a parent is heartbreaking… and overwhelming.
Moms of colicky babies need to take extra good care of themselves—these moms have a significantly increased risk for postpartum depression. Have a friend, family member, or babysitter come over a few times a week so you can get a break if the crying is too intense. On the weekends, have your partner take over, so you can get some extra rest and light exercise. Talk to a counselor or other moms for support. Go on medication if need be. Bottom line: Don’t go through this alone.
Homeopathic Medicine For Colic Baby
Infantile colic is a common problem in babies, especially up to around sixteen weeks of age. It is characterised by incessant crying, often inconsolable, usually in the evenings and often through the night. Having excluded underlying pathology, the standard advice given by GPs and health visitors is winding technique, Infacol or Gripe Water. These measures are often ineffective but fortunately there are a number of homeopathic medicines that may be effective. In my experience Colocynth is the most successful; alternatives are Carbo Vegetablis, Chamomilla and Nux vomica.
Recently I have treated two cases of infantile colic in my surgery. By coincidence they attended within a few days of each other. They both responded rapidly and spectacularly to Colocynth.
Baby Ruby was presented to me at nine weeks old. She had been bottle fed from birth onwards. At four weeks she started to get colic; between 6-9pm each evening she cried incessantly and inconsolably. She drew her legs up and was difficult to wind. She woke every 12 hours throughout the night, was difficult to feed and settle. At four weeks she was given Infacol which made no difference to her colic and made her gag each time she had it. I saw Ruby for her eight week check; by this time she had been suffering with her colic for four weeks continuously. I prescribed Colocynth 30c three times daily before feeds.
I reviewed her one week later and was delighted to learn that Ruby had slept every night since starting the Colocynth. The first night she slept eight hours and subsequent nights five hours each. She was now feeding and winding well. She was no longer drawing her legs up. I advised her mother to slowly wean her off the Colocynth but restart it in the same way if the colic returned. Ruby’s mother was so impressed; she looked so much happier and fresher. The nicest thing she told me was that she was now ‘enjoying’ Ruby so much more.
The second case of infantile colic was young Amelia, also nine weeks old. She was breast fed from birth. At two weeks of age, she started to have colic. During the day she was unsettled, frequently crying, drawing her legs up to her chest. She would only settle if she was being held. Each evening she would cry between 6pm and midnight. She needed frequent feeds to be pacified and didn’t want to be put down. She woke every night, at 1am, 3am and 5am. She would feed and fall off to sleep, but then wake as soon as her mother attempted to put her in her cot and so the cycle would continue.
I deliberated between Colocynth and Chamomilla. I decide against the latter on the grounds that she did not have the angry, irritable features characteristic of Chamomilla. As before I prescribed Colocynth 30c three times daily.
I reviewed her one week later. Amelia was ‘a completely different little girl’ according to Dad. Grandmother also noticed a dramatic change in her, having seen her before and since the treatment. She was now settling after feeds, winding much more easily and having only brief bursts of crying during the evening. According to Mum, during the day she seemed ‘much happier and more contented in herself’. She now lay willingly on the floor, needed very little comforting or holding. Each evening she had fed frequently but was now able to be put down without screaming. She was now sleeping for long stretches; on three nights she had slept from 11pm to 6.30am. The difference in Amelia had been noticed the day following the start of Colocynth and had continued from then onwards. Having had six weeks of colic and crying on a daily basis, Amelia’s mother had certainly noted the difference, as had all the family! She herself was familiar with homeopathic treatment (her pregnancy nausea and heartburn was more effectively treated with Nux vomica than Gaviscon). She had already reduced the frequency of the Colocynth to twice daily and had continued to enjoy its benefits.
Reply to critics
I wanted to share these cases for a number of reasons. They reminded me of how helpful homeopathy can be in the GP setting for conditions in which there is no conventional treatment or when conventional treatment has been unsuccessful.
Homeopathy critics would undoubtedly say that infantile colic is a self limiting condition and the babies got better for that reason. I don’t deny that it is a self limiting but note that both of them, aged only eight weeks old, had suffered from colic every day and night over the previous 4-6 weeks and had got better immediately upon taking the medicine. I’m sure even the staunchest critic would find this difficult to comprehend, explain and dismiss.
It is clear that the immediate improvement couldn’t have been a placebo response. The babies did not know that they were receiving treatment with homeopathic medicine. At that age they are only just distinguishing faces and making eye contact. They are not old enough to visualise and comprehend the fact that they are having powdered remedies on a teaspoon twice daily.
Equally I don’t believe that the mother’s behaviour, willing the medicine to work was somehow being transmitted and received by the babies.
If our critics really wanted to be convinced that the response wasn’t placebo or natural resolution perhaps they should interview the mothers to hear their story, they couldn’t help being convinced.