Infant colic in newborns and young babies is characterized by excessive and inconsolable crying without an apparent cause. Caring for a baby with colic increases the stress, sleep deprivation, and anxiety associated with parenthood. This article outlines the possible causes of infant colic and some of the most effective natural treatments for infant colic. I wrote this article in hopes of providing some relief to colicky babies and their parents.
What Is Infant Colic?
Infant colic is a common, yet fairly mysterious condition in newborns and young babies characterized by excessive and inconsolable crying without an apparent cause. Colic usually peaks around six weeks of age and resolves completely by three to six months of age.
Diagnosis Of Infant Colic
If your baby is crying excessively, it’s wise to have her seen by a professional to rule out any other causes. Your doctor will do a thorough physical exam, and most often this is enough to come to a diagnosis of colic. However, in some cases, blood work or other tests might be required.
The “rule of three” helps doctors come to a diagnosis of colic. If your baby is crying for more than three hours per day, more than three days per week, for more than three weeks, there is a good chance that he is colicky.
Possible Causes Of Infant Colic
We still aren’t exactly sure what causes colic. In my clinical experience, there seem to be many causes of colic since diverse treatments are effective for different babies. Some of the causes of colic that medical research is considering include:
- Imbalanced intestinal microbiome
- Food sensitivities or allergies
- Immature digestive system
- Early form of childhood migraine
- Sensitivity to family stress of anxiety
When considering how the nervous system is linked to the digestive system and the microbiome via the gut-brain axis, it is plausible that these causes aren’t mutually exclusive but rather intertwined. Therefore, when treating infant colic in my practice, I make sure to support the infant’s gut, nervous system, and microbiome, as well as the mental and overall health of the family.
Probiotic Treatment Of Infant Colic
Probiotics have been studied as a possible treatment for infant colic. So far studies have shown that probiotic treatment doesn’t have a preventative effect on infant colic; however, probiotics do reduce the crying time for babies with colic.
Powder or liquid probiotics can be started at birth so long as you get the go-ahead from your doctor or midwife. If using formula, probiotics are easily mixed in. If breastfeeding, probiotics can be swiped around the nipple or offered on a finger.
Food Sensitivities And Food Allergies Are Possible Causes Of Colic
Food sensitivities and food allergies are possible causes of colic in babies.
Food sensitivities tend to be milder and, with a diet diary, can be tied to certain ingested foods of breastfeeding mamas. Common food triggers are onions, garlic, cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cabbage, and kale), coffee, alcohol, chocolate, and spicy foods. If one or more of these cause an issue for your baby, symptoms of gassiness and fussiness will usually appear within several hours.
Food allergies tend to result in more severe colic symptoms. Babies with food allergies tend to cry around the clock, whereas babies with non-allergenic colic tend to have predictable patterns, often crying only in the evenings. Bloody mucus may also be present in diapers of babies with food allergies. Other atopic (allergic) symptoms can occur alongside colic symptoms like rash, eczema, hives, flushed skin, watery stools, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. Common food allergens are wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, some nuts, etc.
If a formula fed baby is suspected to have food allergies, conventional formula is swapped out for hydrolyzed formula. Hydrolyzed means all the proteins that could cause allergies are already broken down into easily absorbable amino acids. Improvement in colic symptoms should be seen in one to two weeks.
If a breast fed baby is suspected to have food allergies or food sensitivities, mom will usually be instructed to remove the allergy-causing foods from her diet for a week or two to see if the symptoms go away. If the symptoms go away, mom will then have to rechallenge (reintroduce) foods one at a time to determine which are causing the problem. In my practice, moms dislike this because it is so hard for them to see their babies in discomfort again. However, the rechallenge is important to ensure that diets aren’t unnecessarily restricted. I often have moms with allergies work with a nutritionist to make sure that they continue to get all the nutrients they need.
Manual Therapies For The Treatment Of Infant Colic
Many parents have reported that manual therapies like chiropractic, osteopathic, and others have helped reduce or eliminate symptoms of colic in their babies. I haven’t found that these therapies work for all infants, but when it does work, it works extremely well. When seeing a health professional for manual therapies, be sure that they are familiar with working with babies. Many practitioners will have taken extra courses.
Herbal Medicine To Soothe Infant Colic
Herbal medicine has a long history of use for treatment of infant colic. Herbs are chosen that relieve gas, soothe the nervous system, and reduce inflammation. My top herbs for treating infant colic are fennel, chamomile, catnip, lemon balm, and ginger root. A product containing many of these herbs was tested in a randomized control-trial and found to be effective in reducing crying for 85% of infants after just one week. No side effects were observed.
Homeopathic Remedies For Infant Colic
Homeopathic medicine can be incredibly effective at treating infant colic. Treatment for infant colic is often the first introduction to homeopathic medicine for many people. Seeing a baby make a rapid transformation from inconsolably crying to perfectly calm is unforgettable.
Homeopathic remedies are chosen based on symptoms and specificity is key. For example, an irritable and sensitive baby who draws their knees to their tummy for relief would be given chamomilla, whereas a restless baby who arches backward when in pain would be given belladonna. Other homeopathic remedies that may be helpful for colic include cuprum metallicum, magnesia phosphoricum, colocynthis, carbo vegetabilis, nux vomica, and bryonia. These remedies are often available mixed together into a compound homeopathic remedy.
Important Safety Note About Homeopathic Remedies
Some remedies, like belladonna, are extremely dangerous in their undiluted forms. This means that it is important to choose remedies that are appropriately diluted and manufactured with high quality control standards.
When dealing with infants, I choose remedies with “C” dilutions rather than “X” dilutions. A 6C homeopathic remedy has been diluted by 100, six times. In comparison, a 6X homeopathic remedy has been diluted by 10, six times. A well made 6C remedy no longer contains any toxicity, whereas a 6X remedy may.
In my practice, I prefer the Boiron brand of homeopathics. They have a colic complex called ColicComfort that may be helpful.
To learn more about homeopathic remedies see How To Use Homeopathic Remedies – A Quick-Start Guide For Families – Dr. Green Mom.
Infant Colic’s Association With Postpartum Depression In Mothers
Life with a newborn comes with a lot of stress and exhaustion. Excessive crying caused by colic can worsen stress, sleep deprivation, and anxiety in parents. It is unsurprising that there is an association between postpartum depression in mothers and colic in their babies.
What may be surprising is that there is growing evidence that the interaction between colic and postpartum depression goes both ways. A colicky infant may worsen depressive symptoms in mom just as an infant’s physical health may be impacted by mom’s poor mental health.
Because there is a link between colic and postpartum depression, mothers of babies with colic may need extra support and should be screened for postpartum mood disorders.
Infant colic, characterized by frequent inconsolable crying, is a common, yet somewhat poorly understood condition of infancy. Causes are multifactorial and may include food sensitivities or allergies, immature digestive system, family stress, infant migraine, or imbalanced gut microbiome. Infant colic is usually benign and resolves itself by six months of age or sooner. Natural treatments for infant colic may reduce crying and provide some comfort to babies and relief to their parents. The treatments that I prefer in my practice are probiotics, diet change, herbal medicine, homeopathic medicine, and manual therapies.
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