Colic (uncontrollable crying in a baby with no obvious cause), is a common problem affecting around 1 in 5 babies and usually starts a few weeks after birth. Looking after a colicky baby can be frustrating and distressing for infant and parent alike. Symptoms include unexplained crying episodes lasting from a few minutes to a few hours, often at the same time each day; intense high-pitched inconsolable crying, sometimes with a flushed complexion; and postural changes such as curled up legs, clenched fists and tense abdominal muscles. Babies may also pass wind or a bowel movement towards the end of the crying episode. Unfortunately, there's no sure-fire treatment that works for all babies with colic.
Luckily, however, colic is not thought to be harmful to your baby and will generally improve by age 3 - 6 months. In the meantime there are a number of natural techniques that may help:
Natural remedies for colic
If you're breastfeeding, it may help to allow your baby to feed at one breast until it's nearly empty before switching sides. This provides your baby with rich, fatty hindmilk, potentially more satisfying than the lighter foremilk present at the start of a feed. If bottle-feeding, consider switching to an extensively hydrolysed formula to test if this makes a difference. The milk proteins in hydrolysed formulas have already been broken down, making them easier to digest if your baby has an intolerance to cow’s milk. Even partially hydrolysed formulas should be avoided if milk allergy/intolerance is suspected.
Numerous studies indicate the gut flora to be imbalanced in infants suffering from colic, with increased concentrations of gas forming bacteria and often fewer levels of beneficial bacteria, such as lactobacilli and bifido species. A balanced gut flora is important in infants to assist in the digestion of milk, regular healthy bowel movements and absorption of nutrients. Live bacteria supplements have been shown to help rebalance the gut flora and have shown positive results in improving symptoms of colic. For example, the 7 strains of bacteria, plus prebiotics (a food source for beneficial bacteria in the gut) in Bio-Kult Infantis (£12 www.tesco.com) have been shown in a clinical trial to help manage symptoms of colic in infants from 2 weeks old, significantly reducing crying times when compared to placebo, without reported side-effects.
3) Live bacteria supplements
This approach involves a series of rhythmic calming techniques, which studies have shown when used together can improve sleep or reduce crying:
4) 5 ‘S’ Approach
Swaddling - safe swaddling (carefully avoiding overheating) by covering the head, using bulky or loose blankets, and allowing the hips to be flexed.
Side or stomach - holding a baby on the back is the safest position for sleep, but it is the worst position for calming a fussy baby.
Shhh sound - making a strong shush sound near the baby's ear.
Swinging - with tiny jiggly movements (no more than 1inch back and forth) always supporting the head and neck.
Sucking - Letting the baby suckle on the breast, your clean finger or a pacifier.
Where symptoms do not improve after trying the above, if breastfeeding you may want to look at your own diet and consider removing gassy foods such as cruciferous vegetables, garlic and onions and common allergens such as gluten, wheat, dairy, peanuts and soy for a short while to see if there is any improvement. Infants of mothers who smoke during pregnancy or after delivery have a greater risk of developing colic. So if you do smoke, this is another good reason to quit.
5) Look at your own diet and lifestyle
Interestingly, a lower incidence of colic symptoms has been noted with increased support from family members and friends, so don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Support groups, such as Cry-sis, can also offer help and advice if you need it. You can contact the Cry-sis helpline for advice on 0845 122 8669 (9am-10pm, seven days a week).
6) Ask for help