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Surviving Colic.... The Basics

Does your baby suddenly turn in to the Antichrist? Does it happen in the afternoon/evenings? With no warning? Are you left scrambling on mumsnet.com for any sort of tips to soothe your little monster and wishing that babies came with a volume control button?

Around 25 percent of babies cry a hell of a lot more than others. These otherwise healthy babies cry excessively; that ear bleeding, head splitting cry, that makes you wonder why you thought adulting and parenthood was ever for you kind. They appear inconsolable and really pissed off for no apparent reason; they're not sick, hungry, wet, tired, hot, or cold but are inexplicably miserable and will not settle..... this is what we call colic!

This is heart-breaking for you as parents. You can't seem to do anything right. Usually it is the same routine in the evening. The colic arrives and your sanity rapidly leaves.

How do I know if it is colic?

Doctors and Midwives usually go off the rule of 3s when identifying colic:

- crying bouts that start when a baby is about 3 weeks old

- lasting for more than 3 hours a day

- on more than 3 days a week,

- for more than 3 weeks in a row.

But also the following features are seen in babies with colic:

- Excessive crying which usually occurs at the same time every day (usually in the late afternoon or early evening, but it can vary from baby to baby).

- High pitched, piercing cry.

- Red faced.

- Baby may pull up their legs, clench his fists and generally move his legs and arms more.

- Grimacing/Frowning face.

- May appear more windy than usual.

Colic episodes are usually late in the day, although they can occur anytime. The annoying thing about colic is it isn't a diagnosis or a disease. Its a collection of baffling (and mind boggling) behaviours. Which doesn't make it any easier to deal with.

Colic isn't a sign that your baby is unwell, although things such as reflux, food allergies, and exposure to cigarette smoke can cause further aggravation and tears. Nor is it a sign that your baby has tummy pain, although the way he/she grimaces, clenches their body, arches their back, pulls their legs up, and screams bloody murder makes it seem like they may well be in pain.

Colicky kids can be very windy. But paediatricians now believe that crying causes wind, rather than the other way around, because babies swallow air when they cry.

The good news is that baby colic doesn't last forever, although it may feel like it at the time. Colic is generally at its worst at around 6 weeks and then typically start to taper off by 10 to 12 weeks. By 3 months (but sometimes a little later in preterm babies), most colicky infants seems to be miraculously cured.

What causes Colic?

We don't actually know what causes it. In a nutshell.... IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. We do know it is not reflective of your parenting skills. I hate to be the childless person that says this but ‘’It's just one of those things’’.

It is very rarely caused by allergies. So please don't assume baby cannot have breast/formula milk and start switching it up and messing with their already irritated digestive systems. Colic makes babies who already have tummy pains even more pissed off!

There are a few theories on what causes it:

- Overstimulation: Newborns have a built-in mechanism for zoning out their environment if it is too bright or noisy. It allows them to sleep and eat without being disturbed by their surroundings. Around 3-4 weeks old this mechanism disappears — leaving babies more sensitive to the stimuli in their surroundings. With so many new sensations coming at them, some infants become overwhelmed. To release that stress, they cry (or screech).

- Tobacco exposure: Several studies show that mothers who smoke during and after pregnancy are more likely to have babies with colic; second-hand smoke has also been thought to be contributing factor.

- Infant acid reflux (GERD): Research has found that infant GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is sometimes a colic trigger. Infant GERD is often the result of an underdeveloped lower oesophageal sphincter, the ring of muscle that keeps stomach acid from flowing back up into the throat and mouth, which can irritate the oesophagus (the pipe your food goes down).

- Food allergies or intolerance: Some experts believe that colic is the result of an allergy to milk protein (or lactose intolerance) in formula-fed babies. More rarely, colic may be a reaction to specific foods in Mum’s diet in breastfed babies.

Either way, these allergies or sensitivity can cause tummy pain that may set off colicky behaviour. BUT this is something that should be investigated after all attempts to relieve colic have failed and you have had surpassed the 12 weeks a which colic is supposed to have settled. Please see a paediatric dietitian or paediatric allergist. Do not just rock up to ER as they are unlikely to be able to help. The amount of misdiagnosis in this area is huge and the evidence is sketchy.

But enough about what it is and the causes of it, chances are you are awake and frazzled and are well aware of what it is. And we can talk about potential causes all day, but I think we just move on to remedies instead....

Colic Remedies:

Unfortunately with colic, you just have to ride the storm. But that doesn't mean you can't try and smooth the waves.... So with that in mind, keeping it simple, try to follow the following steps, try a few together to see if a combination :

  • Swaddle: Wrap your baby up in a swaddle. I’m a fan of a swaddle. I think they comfort babies and being all snug and warm and wrapped up well is pretty bloody good at any age (I still have copious amounts of duvet days at 33).

  • Wear: Wear your baby in a sling or carrier. Have them next to you for comfort and go about your daily chores. Sometimes all baby’s need is to be close to mum or dad to settle

  • Move: Like with nearly every problem in life, movement can help. It can be a distraction. Take your baby for a walk in the pram or pop them in the car seat for a drive

  • Soothe: Gently stroking baby’s face and head whilst rocking them. Putting them in skin to skin. Singing or talking to them. I had a friend who’s colicky baby would only settle when she was held by mum who was leaning on the vibrating washing machine.

  • Sounds: Some babies like the sound of the hoover, the hairdryer, the washing machine. Some like music playing (maybe not Metallica… try Mozart maybe). Anything that can distract them can help. Some people swear by the white noise machines but I am pretty sure there are YouTube videos with the same noise so no need to break the bank.

  • Sucking: Some mum's find babies relax somewhat if they are comfort sucking. Am I suggesting you let them use your nipple as a permanent dummy…. No. Are you going to do it if it stops the crying for a bit…. Yeah probably. If your baby will feed then try this to settle them. Or give them a dummy if this is something they already have.

  • Stomach: Some babies like being on their tummy when they are unsettled. Try this position over your knee, making sure that their head is turned to the side and is not face down. ALWAYS stay with your baby in this position and do not leave them unattended or unsupported!

  • Massage: Sometimes massage can help settle a baby. Although if they are screaming the house down it may be more stressful than successful! Clockwise massage on their tummy and back can help.

What about Gripe Water?

Someone will always tell you how gripe water "cured their baby". You know what, it may well have done. However, there is little evidence when it comes to gripe water, which is a natural colic remedy made of herbs and sodium bicarbonate in drops. No reliable studies have shown its effectiveness in reducing colic symptoms. It is important to remember that just because something is natural doesn't mean it's safe — so always ask your doctor before giving your baby that or any other herbal remedies.

Does a colicky baby need a Doctor?

While the odds are that your baby’s daily screaming sessions are due to colic, it’s a good idea to talk to your midwife/health visitor or family Doctor — if only to get some reassurance and maybe a few extra soothing strategies. Describing the crying (its duration, intensity, pattern, any variation from the norm and any accompanying symptoms) will also help professionals rule out any underlying medical condition (like reflux, an infection or a milk allergy) that could be triggering the crying.

Coping with colic as parents:

To save your sanity with the colicky crying try:

  • Teamwork & Take a Break: Sometimes passing over the baby to a new person (I am talking family member or friend) is the best thing you can do. Make sure between you both as parents you take shifts if your baby has colic (an hour on, an hour off etc). Get the dreaded MIL over if you can and hand baby over for cuddles and soothing attempts whilst you have a bath with headphones, go for a walk, go for a swim etc.

  • Cry yourself: Sometimes colic is hard work. Your angelic child is suddenly the Antichrist and you resent the change in behaviour and all the feelings it makes you feel. That is OK! It is in fact completely normal. If you want to cry then cry. Get it out your system. Crying is cathartic, its good for your mental health. Just know you are not alone. Remember I told you around 25% of mums and dads are also experiencing this!

  • Talk about it: Get online, get to a mum's group. Talk about what you are going through with those going through the same. Talk to your Midwife or Doctor. Share the worries and frustrations you have!

  • Get help: If you’re at the end of your rope, don’t hesitate ask for help — whether from your partner, mother, friend or medical professional. We all need a little help sometimes.

So there it is.... The basics for surviving colic. Reading this won't suddenly give you all the answers but it may just highlight some steps you can take to try and lessen the colic stress.

Nikki xx

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