Infant colics are quite common. About 20% of babies suffer from them – breastfed and bottlefed infants in equal measure.
They typically start at about 2 to 3 weeks of age, peak at 2 months, start to improve by 3 months, and in most cases, are gone by 3½ to 4 months of age. Frustratingly, although much research has been done on the topic, there is no one proven cause of colic and very few universally effective solutions. The other annoying thing is that colicky babies run a higher risk of having sleep problems later on. This is often due to the fact that the parents are too tired and struggle to establish healthy sleep habits. My first daughter suffered from bad colics and I found it very tough to deal with. It basically almost drove me insane! If you are in a similar situation this post might help you.
I have tried to list all I would have loved to know and nobody told me!
Colics versus normal fussiness/crying:
Colics are different from normal fussiness/crying. Babies cry for lots of reasons (tired, hungry, thirsty, too hot or too cold, wet, dirty nappy, etc) but you will quite easily recognise the ‘colic crying’ because:
a) It happens typically between 2 weeks and 4 months of age,
b) It tends to have a higher pitch, feels more urgent/inconsolable,
c) It lasts longer,
d) It happens at a specific time of the day. It usually starts in the late afternoon and evening and may carry on for hours. An interesting statistic I read on Dr. Weissbluth’s book is that in 80% of infants the colic attacks start between 5.00pm and 8.00pm and end by midnight.
Best/most recognised soothing methods:
1) Motion. Different forms of movement help: pram rides, car rides, swings, walking, dancing. Certain babies manifest a preference for rocking or other forms of bouncing. A certain rhythm in the motion helps. A trick that worked well for me was raising and lowering the baby above my head like an elevator or rocking her/swinging her while resting with her belly against my arm.
2) Sucking. You can try with a pacifier, a bottle or the breast. Initially I hated the idea of a pacifier but I had to give up, as it made a big difference to my very colicky daughter.
3) Swaddling. This is a quite common practice in the UK. If you don’t like the idea of wrapping your baby with the arms in, try to wrap gently only the belly, leaving the arms free. Massaging can also be effective but often babies don’t seem willing to be touched in the midst of a colic crisis.
4) Sounds. Some babies love to hear the noise of a hairdryer or of a hoover (I know it is strange), others like music or hearing mum singing or saying shush shush.
There is a fascinating theory that explains why these 4 things might help. Human babies have to be smaller at the time of birth than other primate babies because the pelvic bones developed to support an upright posture are narrower. Rhythmic motions, gentle pressure, sounds could exert soothing effects because they re-create the sensations that the baby felt in the womb.
Finally wearing your baby (in a sling or baby carrier) for a walk can be very effective as it combines skin to skin contact, movement, gentle pressure, fresh air and distraction. With my baby it also worked well to walk gently holding her tight, upright with her face resting on my breast and her belly against my belly.
Not universally recognised methods:
1) Dietary changes for breastfeeding mothers. Try to avoid milk and milk products. If you see it helps try to introduce Lactofree products – I did and did not experience negative effects. You can also try to avoid caffeine, onions, cabbage, lentils, beans, broccoli, and other gas-producing, irritating foods. I tried all of the above but, to be honest, I did not see much of an improvement with my baby.
2) Simethicone based medicines (such as Flatulex, Mylicon, Infacol), homeopathic treatments, fennel tea have not conclusively proven to be effective but in case of desperation they are worth a try. I think Flatulex helped me (although I find it only in Switzerland), and my friend Arpana swears by Colic Calm.
Things to avoid:
1) Overfeeding. Especially if breastfeeding, you might be tempted to soothe your crying baby offering the breast over prolonged periods of time. The problem is that many babies with colics often suck more than they need and spit up/vomit and this can be mistaken for silent reflux. If you can, stick to the baby’s regular feeding schedule in terms of both timing and amount of milk. It helped me to try to leave at least two hours between feeds.
2) Gripe water. No matter what some people say, gripe water often contains unregulated ingredients (alcohol, etc.) that may harm your baby. Even if desperate I would not go there.
Have I forgotten anything that really helped you? If so please let me know. I hope one of the suggestions above help you. Please don’t despair, it will pass!!