There probably isn’t a parent on this planet that doesn’t dread this word. After nine long months when you can finally hold this little angel in your hands it is hard to stand a minute of its cry, let alone hours of screaming.
What is Colic?
Babies normally cry when they’re wet, hungry, sleepy or need to burp, it’s their way of communicating. But colic is a whole other story, during these episodes nothing helps for more than a couple of minutes, no matter what you do.
Colic is the medical term for excessive crying of what otherwise appears to be healthy baby. They usually begin within the first few weeks of the baby’s life and go away on their own by the time the baby is four to five months old. In most cases, the intense crying and screaming (that is louder and higher pitched than the baby’s normal crying) occurs in the late afternoon or evening and lasts for several hours during which babies often clench fists, arch their back and keep bringing legs up in pain. It stops just as suddenly as it starts.
For a more powerful description of colic, I challenge you to drink a glass of milk at once. It certainly won’t go down easy on your stomach and you’ll probably need to burp. Multiply this feeling by a couple of times since your baby’s belly and intestine are still not fully developed (as well as other organs) and I think you’ll get a pretty good sense of what’s going on with your baby.
What is the cause of colic and importance of proper breast feeding
Colic is considered somewhat of a mystery and there are numerous theories about what causes it and what to do to help your baby. I am however mostly prone to the theory suggested by Gina Ford that too much of the so called fore milk leads to babies becoming very colicky.
At the beginning of the feed, your baby gets the fore milk, which is high in volume and low in fat. As the feed progress, your baby’s sucking will slow down and he will pause for longer between sucks. This is a sign that he is reaching the hind milk which is at least 3 times fattier than the fore milk. Some babies need up to 30 minutes to reach the hind milk and completely empty the breast. By gently squeezing your nipple between your thumb and forefinger you will be able to check if there is any milk still in the breast. (Ford. G.; The New Contented Little Baby Book, pg 51-53).
So, to sum up, feeding too often and demand feeding can lead to babies not digesting properly and it is precisely the hind milk that will allow longer pauses between feeds. According to Gina it takes at least 3 hours to digest a full feed for a breast-fed baby and 3,5-4 hours for a formula-fed baby (time refers from the beginning of one feed to the beginning of the next one).
When breast feeding, I think that a good analogy to remember is the 3 meal course: appetizer, main dish and desert for different stages in milk composition. So… never leave your kid without his desert :).
Colic with bottle-fed baby
Gina Ford advises using the wide-necked bottles (designed by Avent) which teat reduces the amount of wind that gets into a baby’s stomach. This way the risk of developing colic is kept to a minimum. If the baby still suffers from colic, it could be that he is overfeeding.
How to help my baby if it is suffering from colic?
Even though during colic time might seem to pass slowly, it is time that is your biggest ally because colic will pass eventually. Still, here are a few practical tips which I can advice based on my experience and the experience of people I trust.
Sugar water method
None of our children suffered from colic. Maybe we were just lucky, but in my opinion the above mentioned proper breast feeding that implies longer pauses between feeds is the key in preventing and stopping colic. If having trouble implementing it, Gina Ford suggests the sugar water solution.
With the baby between one and three months who is feeding excessively in the night and consistently putting on more than the recommended weight gain each week, Gina suggest replacing one of the night feeds with some sugar water (120ml of cool boiled water mixed with half a teaspoon of sugar) to ensure longer pauses between feeds. A baby of three months or more should be given sugar water for a week in order to eliminate middle of the night feeds altogether or at least reduce the feeding to only one. Once this is established, gradually reduce the amount of sugar until baby is taking plain water. In her book Gina more than once emphasizes importance of using the sugar water; plain water does not have the same success! And because of the short period of time the sugar water is used, there is a little chance of your babies developing sweet tooth or rot them (for more see Ford. G.; The New Contented Little Baby Book, pg 194-196).
Burping and tummy massage
Try to burp your child after every feed so it can get rid of the air it swallowed during the feeding. There are various positions to achieve this. Holding baby over the shoulder worked best for us, holding the baby upright with its back on your chest is also helpful, as well as putting the baby over your knee face down. Some children can burp very easily while other need quite some time. Some of them just aren’t able to burp and that is ok; do not stress over it. Rather focus on massaging the tummy.
In those early months, it is never a bad idea to massage the baby’s tummy (even several times a day) to help move along the “trapped” wind. Give your baby a slow and gentle massage of the tummy in a clockwise direction and do this with warm hands. You can also interrupt this kind of massage with pressing the baby’s legs gently towards its tummy and thus creating a position in which it can easily get rid of excessive gas.
Mothers should pay close attention to their diet. There are a number of different lists circulating regarding what you can and can’t eat while breast feeding. Truth be told, it can get very tedious to track and monitor all of them because they constantly change (and are sometimes even contradictory) but the most important thing to remember is: restrain yourself from food that makes you bloated.
Also, fennel tea helps to produce more breast milk and has been of great use to me, especially to overcome early evenings which are often accompanied by low milk supply. Because of this babies eat more often in the early evenings and when they do they do so in small quantities and this can easily lead to colic.
A lot of our friends used BioGaia probiotic drops. Probiotics are friendly live bacteria that help maintain a natural balance of organisms in the intestines. There are more and more studies that suggest they might ease colic, but more research is needed to be sure. In any case, all of our friends speak highly of them, despite relatively high cost. If you are considering using them, here is useful tip: start using them already in the maternity hospital because they need 10 days to kick in. You can read our article on this product at BioGaia drops.
During colic episodes, try to remain as calm as possible. It is believed that your feelings are transferred to your baby. So, have your partner or anybody else dear to you to take over for a couple of minutes or leave your baby in secure place and take a break to maintain your own well-being while having in mind that all this crying won’t cause your baby any long-term harm. It’s just an episode that will eventually pass, it has to, it will ;).