9 steps to calm when the crying won’t stop, Pharmamum’s Survival Guide to Colic

Disclaimer –  This article is only to be used for informational purposes only, and does not replace the need to consult a health care professional to discuss the most suitable treatment for your child. 

Pharmamum’s Survival Guide to Colic

Colic is one of  the earliest health conditions you may be faced with soon after you come home with your newborn. Unfortunately it cannot be avoided and is part of a baby’s development. The feeling I get when I hear the word ‘colic’ is one where my heart does race a little quicker as colic was personally exhausting to deal with. It can be stressful as you feel helpless when your baby is  unsettled and distressed. You want to solve your baby’s problem and know what’s causing them. If someone had told me it’s healthy for your baby to cry and it’s great that your baby can express themselves, in a way they can show you something is bothering them, I would have been a lot more relaxed as a first time mother. From this blog, hopefully, you feel more confident dealing with colic, as well as trying my suggestions listed below to help comfort both you and your baby.

Colic is a general term to describe baby’s when they are crying and fussing for hours on end and cannot be settled. Typical symptoms of colic include: pulling their knees to their chest and going red in the face when they cry, have wind or a bloated tummy,  and  passing wind or faeces around the time the crying stops.  It’s quite normal for colic to begin in the afternoon and carry on until late in the evening, when your baby finally settles and goes to sleep. It’s very important to get your baby checked out by a health professional to make sure there is no medical cause for the crying which will give you peace of mind. Once your baby has been checked out by the doctor or health nurse and your baby is feeding well and continually having wet nappies, often your baby’s  constant crying  can be put down to colic.

If you can not settle your baby  and you and your partner need a break, then it’s definitely ok to ask for help either from a  family member or a health nurse. It’s important to look after yourself and it can be quite distressing hearing your baby crying so it’s ok to put your baby in the cot or a safe place like a bouncer for a couple of minutes and go to another room and have a couple of minutes to take a few deep breaths. Be aware that colic doesn’t last forever and will dramatically improve by 4 months. I felt with both of my girls we turned a corner by 8 weeks and by 12 weeks it was gone. Often it’s a combination of your baby getting use to the outside world and dealing with physical sensations such as digestion, feelings of fullness, hunger or  wind as well as their emotions ie feeling anxious or tired and every baby deals with it differently. I remember with  my first born, I felt like I had her in my arms for the first 6 weeks, constantly picking her up in my arms, rocking and swaying her and having the contact with either myself or my husband. Be aware that there’s no harm in holding your baby. You do what feels right and if you feel your baby needs your touch or closeness, don’t feel that you are setting them up for bad habits where they will always need you to settle them. You will never do any harm to your baby by holding them and comforting them and studies are now showing those babies who are often held or in a sling/ baby bjorn type carrier have a tendency to fuss and cry less.

Also don’t be pressured, especially if you are in a mothers group and others are talking about how well their  one month old is sleeping and they have their child in a four hour feeding routine etc. There is no gold medal given to achieve this, and baby’s aren’t computers! If you feel your baby is hungry or needs a feed, then feed them, don’t watch the clock and say they haven’t reached four hours yet. I’m by no means saying getting into a routine isn’t important, in fact the opposite. I think it is very important for you to get your baby into a routine ,but it will come. From my own experience, I found with my eldest daughter Sophie, and being quite clueless about routines etc, by about 3 or 4 months, I was noticing that we were already in a pattern with Sophie’s sleeps and feeds without really trying.

I also found that my eldest daughter loved the swing. She could have sat in it for hours (not that we let her) and that really calmed her down, often when nothing would settle her. With my youngest daughter, Georgia, because I had a two year age gap and my eldest daughter was still at a very demanding age when Georgia was born, I felt the baby bjorn (baby carrier/ or sling) was a life saver. I was able to have Georgia close to my chest which would calm her right down, if she was distressed, whilst playing, feeding, bathing and attending to Sophie’s needs.

Another thing I found worked well and it does depend on whether your baby does take to the water, but a nice bath really can calm a baby, but make sure the water is 37 degrees because otherwise your baby will be cold and won’t be able to relax. Placing a face wash over the tummy/chest area, keeps them feeling  secure in the bath.

The following is a checklist which hopefully you will find useful when your baby is unsettled:

1) Check/change nappy

2) Is my baby hungry? signs they are hungry is them putting their fists in their mouths and sucking as well as opening their mouths looking for a breast/bottle or crying.

3) Have you burped your baby?  Sitting them on your lap and rubbing their back whilst supporting their chest/chin  in the other hand, or change positions and pop them over your shoulder supporting their neck and rubbing their back. Even having them in a bouncer or swing which puts them in a more upright position helps them get some wind up. If you are bottle feeding, to reduce wind, make sure your baby is positioned in your arms in an upright position and ensure the bottle is tilted enough for the milk to completely cover the teat hole, to reduce any air bubbles being ingested.

4) Is my baby cold or hot? They say with a baby to put one more layer on them than what you are wearing.

5) A pacifier/dummy may help. I understand a lot of people are against dummies and I know all sleep schools are, and often that is the first thing they will do is get rid of the dummy. For some parents,  it’s a pain in the neck, the baby drops the dummy, and the parent has to continually go back and forth and  pop the dummy back in the child’s mouth for the baby to re-settle. That is when the dummy is a big problem, and you wished you never started with it in the first place.  For others, it can be a bit of a life saver, because many babies will soothe themselves by sucking. Personally, I found the dummy to  help both of my girls. With Sophie, I used to find it help her settle and often found it out of her mouth by the time she woke up, and she was my good sleeper. Georgia was not the best sleeper, but also found the dummy to soothe her.  Other babies may suck on their fists to soothe them, and if they do that, that would be preferable as they can always find their fist and as a parent you don’t need to worry about how am I ever going to get rid of the dummy.

6) Rock/ cuddle/sway, sometimes all your baby is crying out for is your closeness, to be held and  to know mummy/daddy is around and just needing to be comforted.

7) Making them comfortable with either a swing/ bath/ massage, check the environment, try make the environment as relaxing to your baby by singing to them, read them a story, just hearing your voice comforts your baby. Also background noise is fine but if there is a lot of disturbing noise, it may be quite distressing for the baby.

8) Is my baby tired? What are tired signs? Pulling at ears, jerky arm and leg movements, yawning, arching backwards, redness appearing around the eyebrows and even hiccups.  It’s very important to realise  that newborns really can not be kept up for long at all, in fact from birth to at least 3 months they say once they wake up, they will be showing tired signs within an hour and should be put back to sleep no later than one and a half  hours after they woke up. I remember both of my girl could not stay awake for longer than one hour and 15 minutes at the age of two months.  It really doesn’t leave much time to change there nappy, feed,  burp them, a little play and back to sleep again. It’s important to do it in that order, because the nappy change helps wake the baby up, and you should try and feed them within 15 minutes of waking because otherwise they will start showing tired signs and not have the best feed and most likely fall asleep whilst feeding. Also don’t allow friends or grandparents say, ‘they don’t need to go back to sleep, they just woke up, look how nice they are playing’  because remember, they are not the ones who are going to pay for it once they leave, you are! An overtired baby is not fun, and it takes them a lot longer to re-settle if they get are overtired.

9) Mother’s diet– If you are breast feeding  you may find that certain foods you eat  cause symptoms of colic in the baby, and you may need to avoid certain foods that you notice  after breastfeeding cause your baby to become ‘colicky.’  Some studies have found that particular foods eaten by the mother including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, chocolate, onions and cow’s milk can cause an attack of colic in the breastfed infant. Also caffeine and nicotine in breast milk have been linked to infant irritability, since the baby’s body isn’t able to efficiently get rid of these substances. They say that one coffee a day is fine,  but I use to drink one de-caf coffee a day, also because of the fact that coffee is quite dehydrating.

Is there anything I can give my baby for colic?

The answer to that question is yes there are few medicines available but as a pharmacist I need to mention that the medical literature says that in regards to colic there is no evidence that medicines help. If anything it can sometimes mask a problem and should only be given for a short period of time. I agree with this statement in that giving medicine for colic can mask a problem so before medicating, definitely get checked by a doctor to rule out a  medical problem ie reflux, infection, lactose intolerance, hernia etc. Once your doctor has said it is colic, try the above  non-medicated recommendations first, but certainly the over the counter remedies are safe and I have heard from many parents that they believe the colic medication did make a big difference.

Infants friend can be given from birth, it contains no scheduled drugs, and is basically a mixture of healthy aromatic and carminative oils ie Cassia – which is Cinnamon, Aniseed, and Dill. These oils contain aromatic and carminative properties which help relieve wind and flatulence. It also contains antacids ie Magnesium Carbonate and Ammonium Bicarbonate  which neutralise any excess acid.

Infacol can be given from one month and work by helping the small trapped gas bubbles join into bigger bubbles, which your baby can easily bring up as wind – helping to relieve their pain and discomfort.

Gripe Water can be given from birth and also contains herbal ingredients of which the base ingredient Dill Oil which help relax the digestive tract and also prevent formation of intestinal gas bubbles.

Brauer makes Baby & Child Colic liquid which  can be used from birth and includes ingredients such as Chamomile and Magnesium Phosphate which are traditionally used in homeopathic medicine to provide temporary relief from the pain, irritability and bloated tummy caused by colic.

Hyland’s Baby colic relief also make a homeopathic colic remedy which work to calm the babies digestive system. The Hyland’s baby colic relief are tiny tablets that once they hit the tongue, dissolve immediately , but if you don’t feel comfortable putting it in your child’s mouth, you can place them on a teaspoon of water and it will dissolve.

At the end of the day try to stay calm, don’t take your baby’s crying personal  and don’t allow your baby’s crying to lessen your confidence as a parent. Remember colic is a normal part of your child’s development and try, easier said than done, to think we are on track and it will not last forever.

Please feel free to leave comments on this blog and if there are any questions I am more than happy to answer them. Also if you tried a remedy that worked well for your children that was or wasn’t mentioned above, let us know. I hope this information does help.

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