As any new parent knows, the first few months of a baby’s life are the most fraught and exhausting of your life. Nobody tells you quite how demanding this tiny ball of noise and poo will actually be, and despite the fact they spend a hell of a lot of time sleeping, it’s rarely at a time when you can too. So feeling like the walking dead is not unusual, and it does get better, and easier, in time. However, if you are unlucky enough to have a child who suffers from colic, it can make the first few months almost unbearable. There’s nothing worse than trying to cope with a baby constantly screaming and in pain, and feeling so helpless because there’s nothing you can do.
It’s estimated that up to 40% of all infants suffer from colic. It usually starts between the third and sixth week after birth and ends by the time the baby is three to four months old. Colic is defined as a condition which sees a baby cry for more than three hours a day, continuously, more than three days a week, for at least three weeks.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes colic. Cow’s milk intolerance was suggested as a possible culprit, but doctors now believe that this is rarely the case as many breastfed babies suffer the condition, and it seems male breastfed babies may be slightly more likely to get colic than any other group. In these cases, dietary changes by the mother may help colic to subside. Some breastfeeding women find that getting rid of caffeine in their diet helps, while others see improvements when they eliminate dairy, soy, egg, or wheat products. In my case, I found that lentils caused an awful case for my little boy, so they were out the window for the duration of his breastfeeding life!
Other theories suggest that colic occurs when food moves too quickly through a baby’s digestive system or is incompletely digested. Other theories are that colic is due to a baby’s temperament, that some babies just take a little bit longer to get adjusted to the world, or that some have undiagnosed gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It’s also been found that infants of mothers who smoke or drink are more likely to have colic.
So what can you do – apart from wait for your poor baby to ‘grow out of it’, a monumentally unhelpful phrase dished out by particularly insensitive doctors and Health Visitors? There are several specific colic relief medicines available over the counter, but if your doctor diagnoses the condition you can get these on prescription so you won’t have to pay. Infacol is a popular one – you give baby a drop from the dropper in the bottle before every feed. Some mums swear by it but unfortunately it did nothing to ease our little one’s pain. We found the Grandmothers’ favourite Gripe Water a much better solution. Now made without alcohol (!) this herbal remedy is a solution consisting mainly of Dill, and really helped bring up the burps after feeds. But if these milder treatments still aren’t doing the job you may want to move on to Colief. A stronger (and more expensive) option, but a drop or two of this in baby’s feed really can help. If you’re breastfeeding simply express a bit first and mix it on a spoon with the milk, then feed through a syringe as with other medicines.
Coping with colic is a traumatic experience, for the baby and the parents, and can leave Mum or Dad ready to join their offspring in howling. Sadly there seems to be no failsafe cure at the moment, but there are things you can do to ease the stress for everyone. And in those first few months when you think you’re failing at everything and everyone must be such a better parent than you, try to remember that it’s not your fault, and help is out there. Ask a partner or parent to ease the burden of dealing with your screaming baby for an hour or so every day. When you feel better, it will be easier to cope with baby, even if he or she doesn’t.
It’s no consolation at the time when people tell you that babies grow out of colic by three or four months, but it is true. If their symptoms persist after this amount of time, there may well be something else wrong so go to your doctor, tell them your baby is still in pain and you don’t believe it is colic and demand they find out what it is that’s causing the problem. A mother’s intuition is more reliable than any Google search on symptoms so never feel like you might be over reacting. Better a worried mum than a sick child, every time.
Ways to try to deal with a colicky baby:
* Walk them around – it may sound simple but keeping upright can often help ease the pain.
* Try burping them during feeds and not just afterwards.
* Place your baby across your lap on his or her belly and rub their back.
* Put your baby’s crib or moses basket in the same room as a running washing machine, white noise machine, or hoover — some little ones find the low constant noise soothing and it can distract them from crying.
* Others may need decreased stimulation and babies of two months and younger may do well swaddled, in a darkened room.
* Try a baby carrier, even when you’re at home. The constant jiggling while you hold them and hoover at the same time can work out excess gas, and may even send them off to sleep. It’s also a lovely way of keeping close to your baby and having your hands free at the same time!