As a mom of 6, I know all too well how tough it can be to have a fussy baby in the house. While it’s normal (and expected!) for babies to cry, sometimes it goes beyond that. As new mothers, we’re especially protective of our children’s health and stay extra vigilant if we think something could possibly be wrong.
In this article, I delve into some potential causes and natural remedies to soothe colicky babies and put a mother’s mind at ease. From changes in feeding routines and dietary adjustments to specific calming ideas to herb remedies. We’ll explore a range of options to offer relief to both baby and exhausted parents.
What is Infant Colic?
Every healthy baby cries, but colic is when a baby cries and cries for no apparent reason. Colic is a symptom that there’s a problem going on. Experts define colic as when baby’s crying lasts for:
- More than 3 hours a day
- More than 3 days a week
- More than 3 weeks
Crying spells can happen at any time, but are often worse in the late afternoon and early evening. Symptoms usually begin around 2 weeks of age and dissipate by about 4 months of age. But that time can feel seem much longer – especially if no one’s sleeping well.
While experts aren’t sure what causes colic, some speculate it’s due to the baby’s immature and highly sensitive nervous system. Because the brain and nervous system are still developing, overstimulation can be overwhelming. Loud noises, bright lights, or too much handling may cause a sensory overload and colicky symptoms.
Other theories include immature digestion, food allergies, digestive discomfort, and hormone imbalance. Whatever the cause, the symptoms can be disheartening.
Symptoms of Baby Colic
All babies cry, get fussy, and have digestive upset. But when these episodes are excessive and long-lasting, your baby may have colic. Some symptoms of colic may include:
- Excessive crying that lasts hours
- Bright red face after long crying episodes
- Fussiness that lasts hours
- Clenched fists
- Grimacing or painful look on their face
- Arched back
- Hard, swollen stomach
- Legs curled up over their stomach
- Chronic burping
- Chronic reflux
- Passing gas more than normal
- Being inconsolable
Babies cry for a reason. The fussing is a sign the baby needs something or is uncomfortable. That said, it’s important to not take frustration out on our little ones. never shake a baby.
Take a Break
For some parents, the stress of a constantly crying baby can be too much. I remember feeling overwhelmed myself, especially as a brand new mom! For moms who feel really stressed and worn out, it’s ok (and healthy!) to take a step back.
If you don’t know what to do, let baby rest in a safe place like a crib or cot, and go to another room to take a breath and evaluate. It may also be time to call another family member to serve as a caregiver while you take a break and get some time away.
Causes of Baby Colic
Potential contributing causes of colic may include the following:
Caesarian Section Births
C-section deliveries prevent the baby from swallowing the mom’s microbiome when going through the birth canal. Dr. Zach Bush shares that C-section babies typically develop colic within their first couple of weeks of life in this podcast. There, he also talks about chemicals and how they affect digestive health.
My son who was born via C-section had some significant tummy troubles as a baby. It took us a while to recover his gut microbiome!
A Tongue Tie or Lip Tie
Tongue ties and lip ties are becoming more common since they’re genetic. Healthcare providers often miss them at delivery and health checkups. Both tongue ties and lips ties can cause feeding problems, leading to digestive upset and pain.
Solid Food Too Soon
Introducing solids too soon can also contribute to symptoms of colic. Ideally, babies should breastfeed for a year or more. Introducing solid food too soon means the baby isn’t ready to digest it. Without adequate digestive juices, the baby may have indigestion.
Sometimes overfeeding can lead to colic, as the baby’s digestive system cannot yet handle a large amount of food. Overfeeding can overwhelm their digestive capacity and lead to gas, causing discomfort or pain.
Formulas aren’t always digestible for babies. They often have soy, dairy, and other ingredients that are allergens or difficult to break down. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using soy-based baby formula. They’ve found soy is often an allergen and aggravates colic. Plus it’s not what I consider a health food!
Food allergies can cause colic, whether the baby is breastfed or formula-fed. What the mother eats can pass through the breast milk. So, if a baby has a cow’s milk allergy, they may get stomach pain or other symptoms when the mother eats dairy. Milk proteins, soy proteins, and others may be culprits.
Some babies are fussy because they’re dealing with stomach acid coming back up into the esophagus. This can cause a lot of the symptoms of colic, like crying and digestive upset. If your baby’s colic symptoms are caused by acid reflux, their healthcare provider can rule this out. Reflux can be caused by several things, including tongue and lip ties and food allergies.
How is Colic Diagnosed?
There’s no specific test to diagnose colic. A pediatrician or other healthcare provider usually bases a colic diagnosis on the characteristic crying pattern. They then confirm it with a physical exam to rule out other underlying medical problems.
Natural Remedies for a Colicky Baby
While there’s no guaranteed cure for colic, some natural remedies have been helpful in soothing colicky babies. Here are a few strategies to try:
- Holding your baby upright – Holding your baby upright during feeding can help prevent them from swallowing air. Keeping them upright for 30 minutes after they eat can also help them avoid acid reflux. Burping them often can also be helpful.
- Fermented liquid – A few drops of juice from a jar of fermented vegetables may help soothe the digestive system. Even some diluted kombucha may alleviate symptoms.
- Swaddling – Swaddling by wrapping the baby snugly in a blanket can provide comfort. The sense of security can reduce symptoms and fussiness.
- Gentle belly massage – Gently massaging your baby’s abdomen in a clockwise motion may provide some relief. Massaging with gentle pressure can reduce gas and ease discomfort. I liked to massage a little of this chamomile tincture onto my kid’s abdomens when they were having problems.
- Warm bath – A warm bath can have a calming effect on the baby and their its digestive system. The warm water can help relax tense muscles, temporarily relieving colic symptoms.
- White noise machine – White noise is another way to provide comfort as it mimics sounds from the womb. Even a fan or a washing machine may be soothing and distract the baby from crying.
- Offering a pacifier – Many babies find the repetitive sucking motion calming. In fact, sucking lowers heart rate, stress levels, and blood pressure. Many babies naturally use their fingers or fist to suck on, but a pacifier will also work in a pinch.
- Consider probiotics – The probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri (strain DSM 17938) may reduce infantile colic symptoms when breastfeeding.
- Going for a walk – Take your baby for a walk in a stroller. Sometimes the movement is a good distraction.
- Car ride – A ride in the car may provide the same distraction and soothing motion.
- Homemade chamomile tincture – A few drops rubbed on the stomach can really help relax the intestines.
- Asafoetida paste – Asafoetida is an Ayurvedic digestive remedy. Mix a pinch of asafoetida with plain water or melted ghee to make a paste and apply around the navel of the baby (not inside).
- Organic gripe water – Gripe water is the traditional “go-to” for colicky babies. A good one will have digestion-supporting herbs like chamomile, ginger, and fennel seed. Gripe water is generally not recommended for babies under 1 month old.
- Fennel – A 2003 study found fennel oil worked better for colic in babies than the placebo. Some researchers recommend not using too much fennel as there’s some evidence it could lead to toxicity.
- Herbal teas – Chamomile, peppermint, or barberry may also help. Cooled chamomile tea can be given in a bottle or consumed (hot or cooled) by the mother. Star anise is also popular, but it can sometimes be contaminated with a neurotoxic look alike.
- Lavender essential oil – Using lavender oil with an abdominal massage may also be helpful. A 2012 study found that colicky infants who received an abdominal massage with lavender had fewer colic symptoms.
- Chiropractic adjustments – Maintaining a properly aligned spine helps remove stress on the nervous and digestive systems. Dr. Hardick discusses how gentle adjustments can help babies in this podcast episode.
When To Seek Medical Attention for a Colicky Baby
Sometimes medical attention is necessary. If a baby is crying for more than 3 hours a day, not taking food, vomiting, changing breathing patterns, or experiencing diarrhea, something else may be going on. Noticeable weight loss, a strange-sounding cry, and a temperature of 100.4 degrees F or higher may also mean it’s time to call a health professional.
Final Thoughts on Infant Colic
It’s important to note that colic is common and isn’t from poor parenting or any fault of the mother or father. The specific factors behind colic may vary from one baby to another. Often the cause remains unknown. Hopefully, some of these tips and remedies can help your little one feel better!
Have you had a colicky baby? What did you do to soothe them? Have any natural remedies you’d recommend? Share with us below!