Sleep Guru Niamh O'Reilly: How to Ease Colic (And Avoid Bursting Into Tears Yourself)
Is your little munchkin a “bit of a puker”? Are you covering yourself (and the furniture) with cloths after each feed for fear of projectile vomiting? Well, there is every chance that your little one is simply a “pukey baby” and there is no real cause for concern.
But, if you find that your baby appears to be in pain following feeds, or that they are getting sick more often than most and really struggling to feed and keep feeds down, then it might be worth taking a trip to your GP or paediatrician to check if reflux might be an issue.
‘Colic’ and ‘reflux’ are terms that are often used to describe crying and restless babies in the early months, but in reality they are quite different. Although neither colic nor mild reflux may require medical intervention, severe reflux WILL require medication and it is worth visiting your GP or paediatrician if you are worried, to have your little one diagnosed for sure.
“Colicky babies” are known to find it difficult to settle in the evening. Their day can go well, but from late afternoon to late at night they may cry – sometimes a lot. (If your baby is simply fussy in the evenings and is just ‘giving out’, then the reason is not likely to be colic. In fact, the chances are that your little one is just overtired and is finding it hard to settle down). Quite often it is a different cry to any others you may hear during the day. They seem to scream, will more often than not raise their legs in towards their tummy and can be pretty difficult to comfort. Colic has been described by a paediatrician friend of mine, as ‘crying for longer than three hours per day for at least three days a week’. For parents, it seems as though nothing you try has any lasting effect. Colicky babies may settle for a short time with rocking, feeding or a soother, but this reprieve can be short-lived and then they set off screaming again. This can last for several hours but it will only happen once in the day and generally at the same time each day. Unfortunately it mostly happens in the evening – when we are already exhausted and would do anything to ‘make it stop’.
The bad news is that there is really no quick fix for colic. But the good news – as is the case with many other baby issues – is that this too will pass! Generally, by around twelve weeks most babies will have outgrown these episodes. And, while there is often no real explanation for colic, it is generally thought that wind or mild indigestion could be the cause of the pain. There is also no evidence to show that formula-fed babies or breastfed babies are more likely to experience bouts of colic.
Still, there are some things that may help you manage things until the stage passes:
- Swaddling can help a lot. Wrap your baby’s upper body tightly enough but not too tightly.
- Feed your baby in an upright position where possible. This will help to reduce any chances of taking in air when feeding. Also, if you are bottle-feeding, check that your baby is not struggling to feed through a slow-flow teat. If babies have to work too hard while sucking, they may take in more air whilst feeding. Most bottles have different flow levels so bear this in mind.
- Simply hold your little one when he or she experiences a bout of colic. Constantly putting them down and repeatedly picking them up could further exacerbate the problem. Try a rocking chair in a calm room with low lighting.
- If formula feeding, try not to constantly change the type of formula you are using. It is too much for their little tummies to cope with. If you genuinely feel it is a digestive issue, and the crying is more prevalent around feeding times, then it is unlikely to be colic. It may be reflux or lactose intolerance. Seek medical advice.
- Use a soother. The sucking motion may serve to distract your baby a little.
- If you are breastfeeding, avoid spicy foods and caffeinated drinks, including tea and coffee. (Although I can appreciate that you may feel you need the caffeine simply to keep your energy levels up!)
- Use the buggy in the evenings, or a sling. Motion can help.
- Look for and take support when it is offered. Dealing with a crying baby can put a parent under a lot of pressure.
Other things to try:
A warm hot water bottle at their belly – (perhaps those mini hot water bottles that are hand-warmers – so small that they fit in your gloves)
Gentle massage on the tummy – they will let you know quick enough if they like it though, so don’t persist if they are only getting more upset
It is also thought that probiotics might help reduce symptoms but remember that what works for one infant may not necessarily work for another.
Remember: the act of crying in itself will not cause your baby any harm.
There are some over-the-counter medications available from your pharmacist. Don’t buy them haphazardly but instead talk to your GP before giving any medication to your child. Just because it is on the shelves in a pharmacy does not mean it is the right thing for your baby.
Importantly, in terms of creating healthy sleep habits, don’t worry too much. Your baby is experiencing some pain and discomfort. Bear in mind that I am talking about tiny infants and newborns, with whom there are NO RULES. Just love.
Niamh O’Reilly is a sleep coach. She's also a baby and childcare guru, a 'parent nanny' and the answer to many a weary parent's woes.