Nothing makes you feel more helpless as a mother than when your newborn baby just won't stop crying. Not only is it stressful for them and for you, but being diagnosed with colic can almost feel like the medical community has given up on you - colic being a catch-all term that essentially functions as a byword for "we don't really know what the matter is".
But, while having an inconsolable baby can leave you feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and isolated, hang in there Mama: it's not your fault, you definitely aren't alone (colic is estimated to affect up to 25% of babies globally), and thankfully there are some resources out there to help you get to the root of the problem and support you through this very challenging time.
We spoke to Rebecca Palmer, former solicitor turned colic expert, whose own nightmarish experience of colic with her first baby inspired her to set up online colic clinic ColicSOS to give parents a supportive arm when it can feel like no-one understands what you're going through...
What is Colic?
Colic is clinically diagnosed for a baby that is crying for more than three hours, three days a week, for a three-week period, but is otherwise healthy and gaining weight. It can strike between the ages of three weeks to six weeks old but sometimes it can be earlier or even later. The timing of when colic symptoms appear is usually down to what is really causing your baby’s misery.
The term ‘colic’ is used as a sweeping diagnosis to cover various reasons as to why your baby is crying. Once you know the root cause of your baby’s distress then you are more likely to be in a position to help.
One of the most well-known causes of colic is trapped wind, gas and digestive complaints, which can induce meltdowns for your baby and result in bloated and hard tummies. Babies will likely have clenched fists, arching backs and inconsolable crying. Everything that we associate with colic.
Another lesser known cause is the fourth trimester adjustment in the first three months of a baby’s life. This is when your baby is transitioning from the womb to the world and it becomes overwhelming.
Overstimulation throughout the day is another reason for inconsolable crying and this often results in the ‘witching hours’ in the evening.
How can you help your colicky baby?
If your baby is struggling with colic then these five tips can help you combat colic.
1. Recreate the womb
If your baby is struggling to adapt to their new world then recreating the womb will help your baby adjust. Your baby was cocooned in a nice, dark, watery environment for nine months. They were rocked to sleep and soothed by the white noise of the blood rushing through the placenta. After birth, the world is very different to the surroundings that they have just left so helping your baby slowly adjust to their new settings in the first three months can help your baby reduce sensitivity.
To embody the environment, try safely swaddling your new baby, rocking and gentle swaying movements and use white noise such as the vacuum cleaner, hairdryer or white noise apps.
Wearing your baby in a sling or baby carrier is soothing for babies with typical colic symptoms and reflux. The upright position keeps the baby straight so that any trapped wind can easily move and be released. With regards to reflux, it lets gravity to do its work of helping keep the milk in the tummy, rather than returning back up the oesophagus.
Babies enjoy being close to their mother as you are their one source of comfort. By wearing your baby in a sling, it provides that close contact and the sound of your heartbeat is comforting as that is one of the noises that babies hear in the womb.
The movement of being in the carrier whilst you are walking or you are pottering at home and getting on with chores, provides that gentle rocking that settles a baby and again emulates the womb.
3. Baby Massage
Baby massage is an excellent way of combating colic if it has been caused by trapped air and gas. Babies tend to struggle with wind because their digestive system is immature. The tummy strokes, especially in a clockwise direction, help move the trapped wind around the gut and encourages the air to be released.
Baby massage has also been proven to mature the digestive system and improve brain to body communication so the more we massage a baby’s tummy, the more it will help a baby’s digestion to work efficiently.
Research also has shown that a loving touch through massage releases oxytocin and this ‘love hormone’ has a natural pain killing effect.
4. Baby Yoga
Baby yoga is another great way of supporting colicky babies. The fun and stimulating movements help massage the baby’s tummy with lots of the moves applying pressure on the baby’s abdomen. This helps dislodge air bubbles and can also relieve constipation too.
There are certain movements in baby yoga that emulate the womb by gentle swings, rocking and bouncing up and down. The fun movements, coupled with joyful nursery rhymes, help settle a fractious baby.
Holds are used within baby yoga such as Tiger in a Tree and Indian Bouncing. These holds place pressure on the tummy, helping provide pain relief if the colic is caused by trapped wind.
Read more: The benefits of baby yoga
5. Holisitic therapies
There are many products available to help treat colic from Infacol, Gripe Water to Colic Drops. These all contain chemicals and may have a reaction in a baby’s sensitive gut.
There is now a move towards homeopathy due to most homeopathic remedies being safe, with no risk of side effects and being made from natural ingredients. These remedies are used only at the onset of the colic symptoms so they are not required to be used at every feed like many traditional colic medications.
One ingredient that may help with colic is chamomilla which comes from the chamomile plant. This has a soothing effect and helps to reduce irritability in babies. Breastfeeding mothers are encouraged to drink chamomile tea to soothe their colicky baby. Chamomilla granules for babies are also available from retailers such as Weleda. Fennel and Peppermint are two further natural ingredients that are recommended for gas and help relieve the spasms in the tummy.
A former solicitor, Rebecca Palmer began a career helping mother and babies through her baby massage and baby yoga practice. Having had firsthand experience of colic with her own babies, Rebecca now runs an online colic clinic designed help get to the root of the problem and provide support for parents during this challenging time. Visit ColicSOS.com to get help from Rebecca.