In my work as a doula and childbirth educator, I’m often asked in the weeks/months following the birth to support mum’s who have a baby with colic. I always struggle with the term “colic”, as really it isn’t a diagnosis in and of itself, but a diagnosis of exclusion (in other words, we know baby isn’t happy but we’re not sure why, so we’ll call it colic).
Kind of like Irritable Bowel Syndrome…you go see your GP because you have painful abdominal cramps and bloating, they do some tests, ask some questions, can’t find any obvious problem so tell you your suffering from painful abdominal cramps and bloating (um, thanks!).
Some of the literature around early parenting recommends not calling it colic, but rather talks about parenting the “fussy” baby. Again, I’m not entirely sure this is helpful language. Why do we need the label? When our babies are expressing some kind of need or discomfort, it’s our job as parents to work out what it is and try and help and support them.
Anyway, I’m not planning to go into a lot of detail about what colic and reflux (a symptom that sometimes accompanies colic) are in this post. But the other day I attended a wonderful workshop with the amazing lactation consultant April Whincop (www.believeinbreastfeeding.com). We spent some time discussing colic and reflux, and I found what she had to say incredibly helpful. Below, I’ve laid out, in order, some steps you can try which will hopefully be helpful for you and, of course, for your baby!
Addressing Colic and Reflux
The first thing is to keep baby skin to skin, as much as possible. Basically think about wearing your baby (in a wrap or sling) as much as possible during the day (again, ideally skin to skin), and keep baby close (co-sleep) at night. [Please note that if you are planning to sleep share with your baby, and yes I do think this is a great idea, make sure you are following safe sleep sharing practices.] It’s worth noting that in cultures where they basically don’t put their babies down for the first few months (referred to as the fourth trimester), colic doesn’t seem to exist.
Many people share with me that they find this difficult…the idea of being constantly with their babies! Yes, it is sometimes difficult. But for the previous 9 months that they were in the womb, your baby was with you constantly, and when they are newly born (i.e. the first few months) they are quite likely not ready to transition away from this. This phase won’t last forever, and in any case is it not worth it if it eases the frantic crying and discomfort? Of course, rope in some support if you can…fathers and other main carers can also wear baby skin to skin!
The second thing is to ensure you are actually feeding baby enough. Very often, the baby doesn’t have colic…baby is hungry! So make sure you are feeding lots! There is a lot of misinformation about breastfeeding in the early weeks, and many of us new mums do not fully understanding baby’s needs in the early post natal period (yes, I include myself here…I had no idea how much feeding I would be doing in those first weeks when I had my first baby). They need to feed more often than we think! And this may well be more frequently than every 3 hours. Again, this won’t last forever…the early weeks are all about establishing breastfeeding, and frequent feeds will help to ensure a good milk supply.
If you’ve tried really upping the baby wearing and skin to skin and your ensuring your baby is feeding frequently, but it hasn’t helped, the third thing is to start to pay attention to what your (mum’s) eating and digestion is like. If you’re supporting your own digestion, you’re supporting your baby’s too. The better you digest your food, the less irritants make their way into your breastmilk. This includes eating well (i.e. nutritious foods…mind the sugar!!!) but also chewing well, eating slowly, not eating when anxious, that sort of thing.
The fourth step, if the above points don’t resolve the problem, is to start thinking about what you are eating that might be causing a reaction in your baby. The top triggers are dairy and wheat, but citrus, sugar, fish, fruit and caffeine can be problematic as well. Many mums say that brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, etc) cause discomfort in their babies. Really you need to eliminate foods for a good 3 to 4 weeks. I will write a separate post soon about how to go about eliminating foods to see if they are causing a reaction, so stay tuned for that.
You can drink a tea made of fenugreek, dill, turmeric, cumin, nigella seeds. The herbs will make their way into your milk.
It’s also important to check out the fatty acid content of your diet. It’s important that you are eating a lot of fat, and the good fats! Saturated fats are not a problem (contrary to popular belief), and you can take a spoonful or two of virgin coconut oil every day to up your fat intake. You should also up your intake of the essential fatty acid Omega 3. Omega 3s are found in oily fish, eggs (free range, organic) and dairy from grass fed animals. You can also take a good quality Omega 3 fish oil (make sure it’s a good quality one as omega 3 fats turn rancid very easily).
It’s also important to lower your intake of Omega 6 fats, which most of us have way in excess of what is needed by the body. So avoid vegetable and seed oils (olive oil is fine, but omit vegetable, sunflower, safflower, rapeseed/canola, etc).
Finally, you also need to be getting a good amount of protein in your diet. Ideally your having protein at every meal.
Tips for Reflux
If baby is sicking up quite a lot, here are some things to try:
- Keep baby’s head above it’s bottom whilst feeding (have baby at a 45 degree angle rather than horizontal)
- Keep baby upright 30 to 40 mins after a feed
- Handle baby gently (no jiggling) after a feed
- Lie baby on left side
- Lie baby prone (ideally on mum’s chest)
- Only use car seat in the car (this should be the case whether there is a reflux issue or not…car seats are only for cars…they are not great for baby’s back!)
- Roll baby onto left side when changing nappy
- Offer small, frequent feed
- If the above don’t resolve the issue, progress to elimination of foods which may be problematic (as described above).
A little trick you can try on an uncomfortable baby, which one of the doulas present on the workshop shared with us: There are acupressure points either side of the navel that you can press. So put your fingers either side of the navel and press gently. If it feels hard, then gently massage these points. If it feels soft, then just hold using gentle pressure.
I hope this information is helpful to you and your baby, and feel free to leave comments and share your experiences!