By Annaliese Jones
Deepak Chopra said "It is the nature of babies to be in bliss". Well perhaps he never had a baby with colic!
If the happy angel you brought home from the hospital is, at about 3 weeks old, suddenly a very unhappy and uncomfortable bundle of tears... then your baby could be suffering colic.
Colic is the subject of many a desperate visit to the doctor. It can leave parents feeling helpless in the face of their inconsolable child as nothing you do seems to calm them. They may even become so distressed; they seem not to recognise who you are.
Although the specific cause of colic has never been defined, the most common theory suggests it is the result of stubborn gas and wind, leading to abdominal distension and pain. Colic-like symptoms can also be caused by gastro-oesophageal reflux, lactose intolerance and milk protein allergy. In many cases, there is an imbalance of healthy gut flora which will also cause a build-up of gas and general digestive discomfort 1. In my personal experience as a naturopath I have found that for some reason, symptoms are usually, but not always, worse in the afternoon and early evening.
Persistent 'hard' crying and a stiffening of their little bodies can often accompany colic. This hard crying makes them take in air, which can create more gas and pain; making them cry even more - a vicious cycle that can seem to have no end, and is very hard to watch as a parent. As much as you want to pull your hair out and scream, this will only make it worse. A stressful environment and a stressed mother seem to worsen colic, although screaming into a pillow in the next room never hurt!
It is important to remember that you are not alone. Colic occurs in roughly 20% of babies and in most cases it generally subsides within 3 months. There are some things you can do to help. Start by asking yourself these questions:
If you have addressed the above, move onto thinking about your diet in relation to baby's symptoms.
Breastfed babies can react to the diet of their mother 2 so you should start by investigating any correlations between your meals and snacks and your child's symptoms. You may find it helpful to keep a food diary and write down the colic symptoms alongside your meals. If you can't see any patterns you may try eliminating the most common culprits (below) for 2 weeks and seeing if there are any signs of improvement.
Dairy, caffeine, wheat, chocolate and gas-producing foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, peppers, melons, tomatoes, citrus fruits, beans and peanuts. Also, try avoiding apple juice due to it's high fructose content, as fructose mal-absorption may be a causative factor 3.
In despair, some mothers switch to formula thinking this will help. In most cases I find this to be counterproductive and always advise mothers to do all of the above first.
In my practice I have found that formula-fed babies with colic often improve when switched to another formula. Some babies are lactose or milk protein intolerant, or, it may be a case of what is called 'lactose overload' 4. I usually suggest a goats milk based formula first, which you will find in health-food supermarkets.
Natural medicine options
By far the most helpful treatment is infant specific probiotic strains 5. If your child has food intolerances or was born by C-section flora is likely to be out of balance 6. A naturopath can suggest the right type of probiotic for your baby. Herbal medicine has a long history among many cultures in this area. Useful herbs for colic are German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis). Prescribing herbal medicine to infants requires specialised experience and should be left to a trained herbalist.
Most of all, remember to keep comforting your child. They are not misbehaving but rather uncomfortable and distressed. Cuddles and more cuddles are the most important remedy.