How to soothe baby when you desperately need soothing yourself
Colic. That swear word that every parent hopes they will never have to utter as a reason (or excuse) for their baby’s constant wailing, but inevitably ends up being blamed for said baby’s crying. Commonly blamed for making perfectly healthy babies scream uncontrollably for extended periods of time, colic has no scientifically proven cause. There is a lot of speculation and assumptions though, ranging from problems caused by an immature digestive system, anxious or stressed parents, allergies, and gas. Some theories even go as far as blaming the symptoms on over-stimulation. Having had a baby who cried uncontrollably for more than half the day as a result of over-stimulation, I am relatively certain that colic and crying from over-stimulation is not the same thing, and neither are their symptoms.
How do you tell them apart? Here are a few pointers:
- Crying – can happen any time of the day
- Colic – usually happens at the same time every day, and often more in the evenings
- Crying – is sporadic during the day, generally adding up to about two hours in total
- Colic – generally lasts for more than three hours long, uninterrupted
- Crying – happens at any age
- Colic – starts at about 2 to 3 weeks and generally disappears by month 4
- Crying – can be because of hunger, tiredness, boredom, wet or soiled nappy, missing you. The crying stops after these needs have been addressed
- Colic – not soothed by addressing the above mentioned needs; crying continues regardless
For many parents, getting to the root of the problem becomes their sole purpose. Watching your baby cry and cry for hours on end is not only unbearable but also exhausting – for both you and baby. Before we figured out that our first born cried because of over-stimulation, we thought she (and us!) suffered from colic. After checking in with a paediatrician to rule out any other potential medical reasons, we tried a few simple and natural remedies to control the symptoms – some of which worked for her, since most are rooted in calming baby down and ensuring baby is comfortable. Here are my top 10 natural remedies:
Movement can soothe an upset child, and does wonders for colic symptoms, so incorporate regularly and in any form possible. Rock baby in your arms, bounce them on your knee on an exercise ball, baby-wear while you go about your day, go for a walk with baby in her stroller. Since gas might be the culprit, gentle rocking can help babies to pass gas. It also calms them down really well – we were glued to our rocking chair for more than a year! If you don’t have a rocking chair, try an infant swing if baby is at least 3 weeks old, or gently rock baby in your arms. A ride around the block can also be effective in calming down colicky babies, but don’t let it become a habit, especially with how expensive driving is becoming! What you can do as a substitute is use an infant seat with low-intensity vibration, or again try the tumble dryer trick.
Moving baby’s legs can also be used to combat crying – moving their legs as if they are riding a bicycle, bending their legs, or applying gentle pressure on their bellies such as when they lie on their stomach, can assist in releasing trapped gas. You can also try baby massage, which is not only great for relaxing baby, but also assists in bonding between you and baby. Evidence has been found that links a lack of affection with stunted growth. Although this was the case in extreme conditions, it does show the correlation between healthy touch and healthy development. You can read the article here. So massage not only helps baby get rid of painful gas, allows you and her time to bond, but also assist in ensuring healthy growth.
- White noise
Remember, the womb was never quiet, and some babies need noise to refocus their attention, comfort them, and reduce crying. White noise can successfully be used to draw baby’s attention away from the discomfort that causes colic crying. There are a list of apps, some free and some paid for, that can be used. Or simply turn on the vacuum cleaner, your hair dryer, or even a blender. (To combine the rocking with white noise, try placing baby in their car seat or carry cot on top of the tumble dryer, switched on its lowest setting). Merely ssssshing or humming loudly while rocking baby can also be used effectively to calm and soothe baby.
Heat not only soothes baby, but can also relax them enough to give in to sleep (and thus stop crying). Warm a small towel or even a face cloth and place it on baby’s tummy. We have a Click It bottle warmer that we used with great success. Just make sure you don’t burn baby! A warm bath can also do wonders, if your baby likes the feeling of water. Our first girl screamed every time we put her in a bath, and only started enjoying water when she could splash around in it. Our second girl gets very fussy when she is denied her bath. She thrives on routine, and her bath at night signals the end of the day and the start of her 6 hour sleep.
- Let baby suck
Babies have a very powerful sucking reflex that needs to be satisfied. They suck their hands, fingers, and/or fists as a way of self-soothing, and they love to “comfort nurse”: when they use your breast (or bottle, although not as successful unless the bottle is empty) to only “dummy”, i.e. they don’t suck to drink, merely to suck for comfort. Although this makes feeding on demand a full-time job, as they also demand “dummy feeding” whenever they feel stressed, tired, or even bored, it is invaluable for a colicky baby. Allow her to suck whenever she is crying, not only will it soothe her it might even help her get rid of gas (if that is what is bothering her) or fall asleep. Of course you can make use of a dummy, or a clean finger, if you feel comfortable. Although I don’t like the use of dummies, we did make use of one for baby girl no1 for when she wanted to sleep, luckily she self-weaned at about 6 months, and baby girl no2 gags when we put it in her mouth. Just be careful of nipple confusion, especially if you also bottle-feed in between breastfeeding.
- Rule out baby reflux
This condition does present some of the same symptoms as colic, but responds well to natural treatment. I am not a fan of homeopaths, but now a few mothers who had great success with some of their prescribed remedies. If you have already tried everything else, I would suggest you check this one out, even if only as a last resort.
- Make use of a lactation consultant
If you are breastfeeding, whether for the first or numerous time, this is essential. There are so many potential issues that could be the cause of your baby’s discomfort, and unfortunately most doctors (even specialists) are not trained to spot these issues. These include things like a bad latch, tongue-tied, and lip-tied (I thought my second baby suffered from this, but was reassured by my lactation consultant that although she did have a pronounced frenulum, she would adapt her latching and sucking to accommodate it. We had nothing to worry about). All of these issues can cause symptoms similar to colic. Breastmilk is also a wonderful thing, if baby gets the right “type” at the right time. The first milk that comes out, foremilk, is low in fat, and if baby gets too much of it in it can lead to digestion difficulties, which leads to gas = colic symptoms. Baby must get in enough hindmilk. Not only is it higher in fat content, so it keeps baby fuller for longer, but it also calms baby’s stomach and helps with digestion. A quick way of checking – if baby’s poop is greenish, frothy, or slimy, it usually means too much foremilk. Of course this is not Mom’s fault, you might have too fast a let-down or oversupply of milk. The consultant can help you steer around both, as well as give tips on different nursing positions, how to burp baby most effectively and any other feeding strategies you might need.
Seeing a chiropractor can also make a world of difference. Birth, either natural or via C-section, can interfere with baby’s body alignment which can affect everything from sleep to reflux to bowel movements. Finding a chiropractor who specialises in babies can be invaluable, and sometimes even the end of the crying!
- Make sure baby is getting enough sleep
Easier said than done, especially if baby misses out on sleep because of the crying! Get to know your baby’s signals and jump in the moment they show signs of getting tired. Allowing baby to get overtired makes it very difficult to get them to fall asleep. A baby that is put to bed at the right time usually gives no struggle, so if they start fighting and crying you most probably missed the signs. Next time, try putting them to sleep 15 min earlier. Ensuring that baby sleeps when they want to, and for as long as they need, will definitely help with the colic symptoms.
Baby comes from a snug, dark, cosy, noisy, and warm environment into our sterile, cold, quiet world. The transition can be difficult, especially if you take into consideration that before being born they spent every moment not only feeling, smelling, and seeing mom, but also moving with her. This is why skin-to-skin contact is so important in the first few weeks of life. I slept with my no 1 on my chest, and when I had to get up she was moved to daddy’s chest. She could smell us, feel our breathing, and hear our hearts beat. That is as close as she will get to the womb ever again. It definitely helps with colic symptoms as it also helps baby learn to self-regulate, from their own temperature, blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, tight to their sleeping patterns and even their mood!
Another way of assisting your baby to transition more effectively is through baby-wearing. I am a big supporter of this! My babies were always with me, even though I went back to work when they were mere days old. I did everything with them, strapped to my body. And the benefits are numerous! The heat and pressure helps with the crying, and the movement allows them to develop their proprioception, giving them a better understanding of where their bodies are in space.
Swaddling is widely praised as a great way of ensuring baby sleeps better, and can also (according to some) help with colic. Neither my girls liked or allowed us to swaddle them. They screamed when wrapped up! So rather than follow advice blindly, see what will work with your individual baby. You can also try co-sleeping, when baby shares the bed with you and/or your partner. Although I do see the benefits, both my kids were moved to their own rooms when they turned 3 months old. I believe that one of the best things that you can give a child is the example of a happy and successful relationship, and that I can only achieve with some privacy 😉
- Get fresh air
Something about the fresh air is magical. When I couldn’t soothe Griffin or Paloma, I’d always bundle us up and head outdoors. The sun, the wind, the bird chirping, the movement, all of these elements helped to shift the mood and comfort my babies.
- Your diet
Although I am not a strict advocate of this, I did try it out with my first born (had no effect whatsoever, but as mentioned it turned out she had sensory issues and not colic), and then decided with my second I am not even going to consider it. There are very strong supporters on both sides, some feel that if you are breastfeeding you must cut out foods and food groups that might trigger or cause colic. Others argue that baby needs exposure and that these foods in any case do not have such a great impact. I tend to rather side with the latter, but it is up to you to make up your own mind. Foods that are usually excluded from a “breastfeeding diet” include common allergens like wheat/gluten, eggs, shellfish, citrus, caffeine and spicy foods. Others that are also included because of their penchant to cause gas include onions, broccoli, sprouts, and peppers, and of course garlic for its strong smell. If you do decide to leave some or all of these foods out in order to see if it makes a difference to baby’s colic symptoms, you need to leave them one at a time, and then give at least 3-4 weeks for the food to be entirely cleared from your system before you can assess if there is a change in baby. I personally only cut out sugar and processed carbs, not necessarily for gas or colic symptoms but more because I would like to be healthy for my kids’ sake.
Something else to consider concerning diet – If baby is on formula, time for a change. Something in baby’s formula might not be agreeing with her, so give it a try! The formulas with no lactose usually gives the best results, as they are easier to digest than the alternatives. You can also give baby a good prebiotic to help with digestion, and to settle her stomach.
Gripe water can be a very effective weapon in your combat against colic, and we used a lot of it! But since I try to raise my kids as natural and simple as possible, I chose not to use the store bought variety but rather make my own. You can get the recipe here.
I hope these tips help, and that at least one will work for you! If not, hopefully you can find solace in the fact that you are not alone, I would go as far as saying that almost every parent thinks at same stage that their little darling has colic, just because their little darling turned out to not be as darling, or as little…