Being a new mum bought with it many challenges, some I expected – like sleepless nights, constant nappy changing and baby sick – but I didn’t expect that I would have a crying baby who couldn’t be consoled, no matter what I did.
Starting every day at 5pm, my two week old baby would start screaming. I walked him around, rocked him, fed him, changed his nappy, sang songs, gave him a bath, winded him, walked him around some more, rocked him again and so it went on and on. It was exhausting.
The health visitor said it was colic. She said that I could give him over-the-counter medicine, which might or might not work, but he would get better by 4 months of age. It seemed like a long time away but she was right. By 4 months of age, I had a different baby and evenings were no longer the most exhausting time of the day. (That changed to 3am!)
If you have a colicky baby, you probably know the feelings of desperation and frustration as you try to soothe your baby and nothing seems to help. Like me, you have probably tried rocking, walking, feeding day after day to no avail.
If breastfeeding, you may have found that you offer milk to help calm your screaming baby. As they quieten on the breast, you can breathe again, but when your baby finishes, the crying starts again, so you offer the other breast. Evenings may start to become a cycle of crying, feeding, crying from colic, feeding to soothe, crying from colic, feeding to soothe. This can make nipples sore and crack, making breastfeeding painful and increasing the challenges of coping with a colicky baby.
If you are a mum with a colicky baby, let me tell you one thing – you are not alone (30% of babies are estimated to have colic) and it does get better. In the meantime, this will help you to understand what colic is and give you tips to ease colic.
So what is colic?
There is no medical test for colic so doctors diagnose colic using the definition created by Dr. Morris Wessel, who conducted a study on babies who cried excessively for no obvious reason. His definition of a colicky infant (that doctors still use today) was a child who cried for more than 3 hours a day, for more than 3 days a week, for over 3 weeks.
What causes the constant crying is unclear – sorry that this isn’t what you want to hear when your baby is crying every day – but there are a few theories that may help.
One of these theories is that colic is a pain in the stomach that is caused by an immature digestive system. This suggestion fits with the typical high pitched scream and legs pulled up to the stomach that babies with colic present with.
As colic usually occurs in the evening, some suggest it is a result of a sensory overload throughout the day that accumulates by the evening. The baby can’t switch off and so becomes stressed and shows this through physical actions such as arching the back, screaming, squirming and jerky movements.
There is also the theory that colic is a result of the fourth trimester where it is thought a baby is not ready for life outside the womb and therefore reacts to this by crying. This is supported by the fact that most babies grow out of colic by 3 months.
Some babies who cry uncontrollably and who have been diagnosed with colic, may have other underlying conditions which also cause crying.
One of these conditions is acid reflux, a painful condition when the muscular valve allows stomach acid to come up into the oesophagus. This can cause discomfort which can present itself by arching away, refusing to feed and crying. A more severe condition is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which requires medical treatment.
Another one of the more common medical causes of excessive crying is cow’s milk protein intolerance. This condition can affect babies who drink formula that contains cow’s milk. It can also affect breastfed babies whose mothers consume cow’s milk products.
Tongue tie affects 4% – 11% of newborn babies. It is a condition that can prevent a correct latch when breastfeeding, which can then lead to colic.
A less common condition, but one which produces crying in young babies, is infantile migraine. Symptoms include intermittent head-holding, head tilting, ear-pulling, crying, irritability or vomiting.
How To Ease Colic
Just as there is no one cause, there is no one solution, but here are some suggestions that may help your colicky baby.
Medicines for colic, such as infacol, bring together all the small bubbles of gas that can get trapped so a baby can burp it out more easily, which may reduce stomach pains and the consequent crying.
Similarly, if a baby has colic due to digestive issues, a stomach massage may help. Circling the stomach in a clockwise direction can shift the gas downwards and out. Massages given during the day can help to prevent the build-up that may cause the excessive crying in the evening.
Using a baby sling with your baby in an upright position can be beneficial as the warmth and pressure of your body against your baby’s stomach reduces discomfort. Equally, a bath may help.
If bottle feeding, you could try different types of bottles and nipples to reduce the air that your baby is taking in. You may also wish to change formula to see if that improves the colic symptoms.
If breastfeeding, try avoiding foods that may cause gas in your baby. More common intolerances are dairy products, caffeine, spicy food and chocolate. Eliminate one possible cause for a few days and see if it makes a difference.
As some babies have colic due to sensory overload, try to keep the room that your baby is in calm, dim and quiet. Even a mobile phone screen near a newborn may be too much towards the end of the day when they are trying to unwind.
Trying to simulate the womb can help calm your colicky baby if they are less than 3 months. To recreate the womb, try swaddling them (or holding them tightly), swaying them in your arms in a sideways position or on the stomach, patting your baby’s bottom or back, making a sssshhhhh sound, and finally, suckling on a finger, dummy or breast.
As there may be a medical condition that is causing the excessive crying, you should discuss your baby’s symptoms with your doctor.
And Just For You…
If your baby has been diagnosed with colic, it is not unusual to feel alone and struggling to cope. You may be exhausted from trying to calm your baby and frustrated that your baby is still crying.
It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. If you have a partner, maybe you could ask them to take care of your baby while you have a bath or a shower.
Don’t worry about the housework or any other jobs that you feel need doing. These can wait until you are less tired.
Talk to other mums. Trust me – you are not alone with a colicky baby. If you go to baby groups, mention that your baby has colic and you should receive support and understanding. There are also online forums and groups that will give you advice and kind words.
If the crying is getting to you and making you tense or angry, put your baby in bed, or give him to someone else to hold for a while, so that you can take some time out to feel calm again.
This will pass. I know that when you have a baby with colic, it seems to be never-ending, but it does get better. I know because I’ve been there. In the meantime, feel confident that you are doing the best for your baby and look after yourself.
(Contributed by our Telford Teacher Janette Davey)