Monday, June 16, 2008

Colic – Does Your Baby Have it? What Can You Do About It?

By Elizabeth Pantley, author ofGentle Baby Care and The No-Cry Sleep Solution

You may have heard the term colic applied to any baby whocries a great deal. Not all crying babies have colic, but all colicky babiescry ¾and they cry hard. They may stiffen their little bodies, or curl up as if inpain. They may cry so hard that they don’t seem like they even know you arethere. When babies cry like this, they take in a lot of air, which creates gas andmore pain, which makes them cry even more.

Researchers arestill unsure of colic’s exact cause. Some experts believe that colic isrelated to the immaturity of a baby’s digestive system. Others theorize that ababy’s immature nervous system and inability to handle the constant sensorystimulation that surrounds her cause a breakdown by the end of the day, whencolic most often occurs.

Dr. Harvey Karp, in his book The Happiest Baby on theBlock (Bantam Books, 2002) introduced a new theory. He believes that babiesare born three months too early, and that some babies find their new world toodifficult to handle. They yearn for the comforting conditions that occurred inthe womb.

Whatever the cause, and it may be a combination of all thetheories; colic is among the most exasperating conditions that parents of newbabies face. Colic occurs only to newborn babies, up to about four to fivemonths of age. Symptoms include:

  • A regular period of nonstop, inconsolable crying, typically late in the day
  • Crying bouts that last one to three hours or more
  • A healthy and happy disposition at all other times of the day

Cancolic be prevented?

Given that we aren’t sure what causes colic, we don’t knowif it can be prevented. Even if you do everything “right” and take all thesteps to discourage colic, it still may happen. If you think your baby hascolic, talk with your pediatrician and take your baby in for a checkup to ruleout any medical cause for your baby’s crying. If your baby is given a cleanbill of health, then you’ll know colic is the culprit in the daily cryingbouts.

Since colic occurs in newborns, parents often feel that theyare doing something wrong to create the situation. Their vulnerability and lackof experience puts them in the position of questioning their own ability totake care of their baby. Hearing your baby cry with colic, and not knowing whyit’s happening or what to do about it is painful for you; I know this becauseone of my four children suffered with colic. Although many years have passedsince then (Angela is now 15), I remember it vividly. Hearing my baby cry nightafter night and not knowing how to help her was gut wrenching, heartbreaking,and frustrating. The most important piece of research I discovered was this: It’snot your fault. Any baby can have colic.

Things that may help your baby

Remember that nothing you do willeliminate colic completely until your baby’s system is mature and ableto settle on its own. That said, experienced parents and professionals canoffer ways to help your baby though this time ¾ ask around! I did, andfrom what I uncovered, I compiled the following suggestions for helping yourbaby feel better. Look for patterns to your baby’s crying; these can provideclues as to which suggestions are most likely to help. Stick with an idea for afew days to see if it helps. Watch for any signs of improvement (notnecessarily complete quiet). If the particular course of action doesn’t seem tochange anything, don’t get discouraged ¾ just try something else:

· If breastfeeding, feed on demand (cue feeding),for nutrition as well as comfort, as often as your baby needs a calminginfluence.

· If breastfeeding, try avoiding foods that maycause gas in your baby. Eliminate one possible cause for a few days and see ifit makes a difference. The most common baby tummy offenders are dairy products,caffeine, cabbage, broccoli and other gassy vegetables. But don’t assume theculprit, if there is one, will be obvious: I know one mother whose baby reactedloudly and consistently after any meal that included eggplant, asparagus oronions.

· If bottlefeeding, offer more frequent butsmaller meals; experiment with different formulas with your doctor’s approval.

· If bottlefeeding, try different types of bottles and nipples that prevent airfrom entering your baby as he drinks, such as those with curved bottles orcollapsible liners.

· Holdyour baby in a more upright position for feeding and directly afterwards.

· Experimentwith how often and when you burp your baby.

· Offer meals in a quiet setting.

· If baby likes a pacifier, offer him one.

· Invest in a baby sling or carrier and use itduring colicky periods.

· If the weather’s too unpleasant for an outsidestroll, bring your stroller in the house and walk your baby around.

· Give your baby a warm bath.

· Place a warm towel or wrapped water bottle onbaby’s tummy (taking caution that the temperature is warm but not hot).

· Hold your baby with her legs curled up towardher belly.

· Massage your baby’s tummy, or give him a fullmassage.

· Swaddle your baby in a warm blanket.

· Lay your baby tummy down across your lap andmassage or pat her back.

· Hold your baby in a rocking chair, or put him ina swing.

· Walk with Baby in a quiet, dark room while youhum or sing.

· Try keeping your baby away from highlystimulating situations during the day when possible to prevent sensoryoverload, and understand that a particularly busy day may mean a fussierevening.

· Lie on your back and lay your baby on top ofyour tummy down while massaging his back. (Transfer your baby to his bed if hefalls asleep.)

· Take Baby for a ride in the car.

· Play soothing music or turn on white noise suchas a vacuum cleaner or running water, or play a CD of nature sounds.

· As a last resort, ask your doctor aboutmedications available for colic and gas.

Tips for coping

As difficult as colic is for a baby,it is just as challenging for the parents. This can be especially hard for amother who has other children to care for, who has returned to work, or who issuffering from the baby blues or postpartum depression. Even if everything elsein life is perfect, colic is taxing. Here are a few things you can do to takesome of the stress out of these colicky times:

· Know that your baby will cry during hiscolicky time, and while you can do things to make your baby more comfortable,nothing you can do will totally stop the crying. This is not aresult of anything you’ve done or not done.

· Plan outings for the times of day when baby isusually happy, or if outings keep your baby happy, plan them for the colicky times.

· Take advantage of another person’s offer to takea turn with the baby, even if it’s just so that you can take a quiet bath orshower.

· Keep reminding yourself that this is onlytemporary; it will pass.

· Avoid keeping a long to-do list right now; onlydo what’s most important.

· Talk to other parents of colicky babies so youcan share ideas and comfort each other.

· If the crying is getting to you and making youtense or angry, put your baby in his crib, or give him to someone else to holdfor a while so that you don’t accidentally shake or harm your baby. (Shaking ababy can cause permanent brain damage, so if you feel angry, and colic can dothat to you, put your baby down.)

· Know that babies do not suffer long-term harmfrom having colic.

When should I call the doctor?

Anytime you are concerned about yourbaby, call your doctor. That goes for anything concerning your precious littleone. In the case of colic, be sure to make that call if you notice any of thefollowing:

· Your baby’s crying is accompanied by vomiting.

· Your baby is not gaining weight.

· The colicky behavior lasts longer than fourmonths.

· Your baby seems to be in pain.

· Your baby has a fever.

· Your baby doesn’t want to be held or handled.

· The crying spree isn’t limited to one bout inthe evening.

· Your baby does not have regular bowel movementsor wet diapers.

· You notice other problems that don’t appear onthe previous list of symptoms.

· Your baby’s crying is making you angry ordepressed.

This article isan excerpt from Gentle Baby Care by Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)

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