I heard this statement for the first time about a decade ago: “I handed my 2-day-old colicky baby to my chiro, and he sorted him out—one time!” It’s stayed with me ever since, though fortunately I never had the need to hand either of my babies over to a chiropractor! It’s always intrigued me why this mother did it, how she found out about this treatment, and how exactly it helped her baby.
This was the mother’s second child. Hoping to prevent the terrible colic that her first little one had experienced (only a parent with a colicky child could empathise with that, the unending crying from the centre of the universe), she handed baby number 2 over to the chiro as a proactive step. She swore by this solution but, as I learnt when researching this article, there are many factors that contribute to colic.
Does your baby really have colic?
Colic can be difficult to diagnose within the first few weeks of birth, but as time progresses, baby will show more pronounced signs of distress. Trapped wind or gas is the most common cause of cramps and colic. Poor burping technique, trapped gas or feeding issues can contribute to gassy tummies.
PHASE 1 – fussiness (usually it starts in weeks 2-3
Symptoms aren’t yet severe, and include:
• Moaning and groaning
• Fussy feeding
• Perhaps little crying spells
PHASE 2- cramp pains(usually around weeks 5-8)
The weeks go by and symptoms worsen, despite best efforts:
• Cramping is worse.
• Crying can last over an hour.
• Everyone’s sleep is broken.
• Reflux (vomiting) often starts in this phase
PHASE 3 – inconsolable
In the final phase, symptoms of pain and discomfort are
• Crying continues for hours on end, up to five hours a day—poor sleeping pattern.
• Abdominal area is bloated and distended.
• Baby is in intense pain, exhausted and probably not eating well—or lots of comfort feeding.
• Mom and dad frazzled, emotionally spent and feel powerless to ease the suffering their little one is going through.
THE 3 MOST COMMON TYPES OF COLIC
Stomach colic (upper digestive tract)
Babies often gulp and swallow gas when they feed. If this gas doesn’t get released (burped up), discomfort and indigestion can follow.
Not burping properly causes this type of colic. At first, this occurs soon after feeds. But if it continues, winds pass through the intestines—leading to further bloating, cramps and reflux (intestinal colic).
Intestinal colic (lower digestive tract)
The most common cause of ‘serious’ colic symptoms is an excessive amount of gas in baby’s intestinal tract. This gas can be swallowed (burps that didn’t get released), blockages in the still-immature intestinal tract, or failure to digest the milk properly. The classic colic symptoms are cramping, crying, moaning and groaning, pushing and straining, bloating and reflux.
Around 15% of colicky babies fall into this category, which isn’t related to trapped gas or winds but rather to muscular or skeletal tension and imbalance. There’s a higher incidence in Caesarean deliveries and traumatic births. Babies don’t moan and groan like in ‘gassy’ types of colic, but rather cramp and arch. They often feel stiff and tense.
AT HOME REMEDY
Although colic symptoms for stomach and intestinal colic usually go away at around four to six months as baby’s digestion matures, it can be months of frustration. Here are some things you could try at home to ease baby’s tummy. The goal is to help get gas moving out the bottom!
• Swaddle him snugly in a blanket. Some babies respond well to being wrapped tightly (but not too tight!), especially while being rocked.
• Lay him across your lap and gently rub his back.
• Hold him in the ‘colic carry’: Position your baby so that his stomach rests on your forearm and his head is supported in the palm of your hand or the crook of your arm.
• Put a warm water bottle on your baby’s belly.
• Have him suck on a pacifier.
• Soak him in a warm bath.
• Walk him kangaroo-style: With your baby in a front carrier (facing either in or out, depending on what seems to be his preference), walk him around the house or, if weather permits (and both you and the neighbours don’t mind), outside.
• Rock and roll him: Rock your baby in your arms. Take him for a ride in the car, or for a walk in his stroller. The steady rhythm of any kind of movement can be soothing.
• Try infant massage: Lay him tummy-down across your legs and gently rub his back to help release pent-up gas. Gentle, good quality baby massage oils are available from good baby stores—and this is a wonderful bonding ritual.
• Play white noise. A single sound, such as a recording of rain or even the sound of a hairdryer, can calm your baby.
• Provide warmth. Place a warm (not hot) washcloth on his tummy or give him a warm bath.
• Pedal his legs: With your baby on his back, gently move his legs in a pedalling motion to help him release gas.
• Adjust his diet. If you’re breastfeeding, and if none of the above seems to help, try changing your own diet by eliminating dairy products, caffeine, onions, cabbage, broccoli, garlic and spicy foods. If your baby is formula-fed, ask the paediatrician about switching to a different formula (soy-based, pre-digested, or other hypo-allergenic).
• Try—yes, it’s hard—but TRY to stay calm. If all else fails, put baby down, make yourself a cup of tea and calm yourself down. Don’t let him pick up on your own anxiety. Then snuggle your baby and realise that you’re the best person to comfort him, and if you can’t do it, no one can.
CALL IN THE BIG GUNS
Okay, so you’ve tried everything you can think of to soothe baby’s distress. This is when you could call in a chiropractor who specialises in baby care. One of the things mentioned by our consultant on this article, Dr Greg Lacock, is that quite often we’re almost too gentle in our approach to wind babies. I think most parents, particularly new ones, err on the side of caution when it comes to handling their baby, which is why it’s important to have a trained professional release wind and show you exactly the amount of pressure to apply. Dr Lacock starts with an initial consultation with mom and baby, noting her pregnancy- and delivery history before commencing with treatment.
Active burping & intestinal gas – getting the wind out!
Some babies simply don’t burp very easily, or they may release a burp but you’ll still feel something is stuck or they haven’t settled— it’s a wind that’s trapped. A chiropractor, with his or her detailed skeletal and anatomical knowledge, will manipulate baby’s little body, moving through a variety of active burping techniques. This will open up the pipes and, with a little consistent effort, the burps will start coming up more easily. Mom and dad can easily learn these techniques to soothe baby at home. Subscribe to www.colic.guru to watch videos and learn additional colic release techniques.
Today, many babies born by C-section are what we call ‘stuck in flexion’. In other words, they’re still slightly curled up in the foetal position. Their knees are often pulled up toward their chest when they’re on their back, and don’t lie flat or straighten their legs very easily. You may notice that when you hold them, their knees are often pulled up. This could contribute to gas buildup in the intestinal area, and often makes these babies a little harder to burp. Your chiro can show you how to conduct stretch sessions, which can make a big difference. Baby must be relaxed and not cramping or crying.
Stretches must be one minute each and, very importantly, DON’T force anything!
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW
Colic is often progressive and could continue for many months. Treating symptoms can only bring short-term relief, but rarely solves the problem. The good news is that colic can also go away very quickly if you do the right things. Relief usually comes through a simple change in management. In some babies, the techniques work very well, but after a few days the symptoms creep back. If you don’t get the burps out, this will probably continue happening, so make sure you learn a burping routine.
Some tummy issues can also be due to formula that’s not being digested. Try a different one and see if there’s any change; it may take a week or so to know for sure. In the interim, continue with the active burping exercises so that the problem doesn’t get worse. In some cases, gas pockets are simply too deep to release manually. If symptoms are severe, you may need to introduce medication, although this is a last resort (ongoing use of remedies and medication could lead to constipation). Use it sparingly and as advised by your paediatrician.
Discuss your situation with your doctor and/or a specialist who can suggest changes that are most likely to help your particular situation.
Thanks to Dr Greg Lacock of Table View Chiropractic Centre (www.tableviewchiropractic.co.za) for the information in this article. Dr Lacock has specialised in treating babies with colic for the past 24 years, and shares further knowledge on his website www.colic.guru and Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ColicGuru.