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Is this Colic?

I will never forget those long hours in the evening, desperately trying to help my eldest son who was screaming crying, pulling his little knees into his chest, obviously in such discomfort. It was crippling to not know what to do, not be able to help soothe him. I was his mother, why couldn't I calm him down? What the heck was wrong with this tiny little baby, squirming every night in my arms? 

Nothing can prepare you for the challenges of motherhood until you are right in the thick of it. It's at that point when you would literally do anything to get out of it. You'd pay anyone any amount of money to solve your baby's discomfort.  

But what I find is the hardest thing is actually trying to diagnose what specifically is wrong with baby. Is this colic, or silent reflux, or some form of intolerance, or any other list of ailments? There is literally nothing worse than not knowing and trying everything you can think of, trying every bit of advice given to you by your friends, other moms, facebook support groups, by the prophet Google, by your GP, your Public Health Nurse, the granny in the street...I'm tired even typing it. 

I often think babies are born three months too early. Now, don't get me wrong, I wouldn't wish an elephant pregnancy on any woman, but I see so many babies in my classes, my friend's babies and my own, particularly boys, who seem to have an 'immature' digestive system, particularly for the first 3 months. What I mean by that is they struggle with digesting whatever type of milk they receive, they might spit up a lot, have trouble with wind, and I find so many babies are generally just fairly 'unsettled' for the first few months. That is not medical research, but rather anecdotal observations from my personal experiences of teaching for the last 10 years, and having 2 out of 3 boys with 'digestive issues'.

It's important to note that I'm NOT talking about medically diagnosed digestive diseases here, I'm talking about helping your average mother from driving herself bat sh*t crazy with the stress of feeling helpless and unable to take away her baby's discomfort, when she just doesn't know what is wrong and feels like she has tried everything. 

So let's examine a few things. For those babies that do not have a medically diagnosed disease, how can we help?

Is it Colic?

Colic is a funny one...nobody really knows what it is and GPs even and Public Health Nurses will sometimes tend to bundle so many problems under the umbrella of 'colic', which I know can be infuriating for many women who know there is something more seriously wrong with their baby. So Colic is an incessant screaming in the evening time for approximately three hours, where there is no apparent reason. They don't seem hungry or hot or any of the things you'd normally check.  In general, it is widely agreed that it has something to do with the digestive system. There are products on the market that claim to help - things like Infacol and bottles that help with wind. Personally, I don't really rate any of these, but you might. 

If your baby is displaying this type of behaviour, this is what I'd recommend, and what I actually did myself:

  • Obviously, firstly rule out any medical problem through a GP or paediatric consultant
  • Keep a journal / piece of paper and write down their rough day in terms of feeds, sleep bowel movements etc, so that you could find or rule out any pattern that may be leading to their bout of extreme crying
  • Identify what time it tends to start, and try to wind back one hour and try to do this 3-step process every day for two weeks, changing nothing else:
    • For example, the screaming starts at 7pm. At 6pm, you focus on skin-to-skin. Ideally, this is in the form of a bath for BOTH you and baby, or dad and baby. But you must have someone else in the house so that you can get into and out of the bath safely. If you don't have another person in the house that can help you, then jump into the bed for 15 minutes or so and whip off any clothing on your chest, and have baby just in their nappy. Get really snuggly and ensure you are both warm. Just be, and enjoy the closeness. If you are in the bath, make sure it's really warm. Most babies can happily tolerate 35-37 degrees, which is a nice warm bath. You don't need any bubbles.
    • So after your skin-to-skin time, you give your baby a specific tummy massage for about 5 minutes, which is a combination of massaging the tummy from the belly button to the pubic bone, massaging the belly in a clockwise circle, and bringing the little knees into their tummy and holding for several seconds, and releasing / gently bouncing the little leggies. And repeating this. The best thing to do is to find a professional who has qualified through a branch of the International Association of Infant Massage, in your country. The Irish chapter is called Baby Massage Ireland, of which I am an affiliate and have been for 10 years. There is this specific colic-routine and I've seen it having AMAZING results with consistent practice.  
    • Step three would be to feed baby and try to get them asleep, all before the 7pm hour comes by, OR if that isn't an option, to 'wear' your baby in a sling. Seriously, slings are bloody lifesavers. With my third baby, who is now 13 months, I used a sling from when he was born and it was just amazing. He and I were both content, I could get stuff done in the house, and having two hands free with a newborn is heaven...particularly when you have older children with demands of their own.
    • If you do this three-step process each day for 2 weeks solid, without changing any other element, then I can (almost!) guarantee that you will see a vast improvement. If you don't, I could safely say your baby has not got colic.
  • Even for babies who are just 'unsettled' in the evenings...and this is many, many babies...simply wearing them in a sling will help enormously. There are now so many slings on the market, it can be overwhelming, even for someone like me who works in this area. Plus they are blooming expensive so you are snookered if you buy one and your baby doesn't like it...which can happen! There are ring slings, wrap slings, buckle carriers and many more. What I'd highly recommend is going to a sling meet. In Ireland, Babywearing Ireland are just a godsend in my view. What happens in my area is that you go to one of their monthly sling meets, pay €3 to cover the cost of room hire, as it's a voluntary organization, and watch their demo's. They will demonstrate about 3-5 types of slings and you can try several on. They don't do lengthy individual consultations, but they will absolutely help you get them on, advise on different ones to try, depending on the age of your baby and what you might like. If you like one, you simply borrow it for €10 for the month and give it back to them at the next sling meet or keep paying €10 to rent it monthly. It's amazing! If you find one you like you can hang onto it for a few months or else buy it yourself privately. They also sometimes have used slings for sale which are in great condition. I also bought one of these for a fraction of the price of a new one. So I'm a huge advocate of Babywearing Ireland. They have a facebook page with lots of information in the files and dates of upcoming sling meets.  
  • If you know baby doesn't have colic but is in pain after a feed or perhaps is just super unsettled, I would 1 million percent recommend you go to a good Cranio-Sacral therapist who has lots of experience with babies. The type of birth you have or how baby was lying inside of you, can have a massive impact on their digestive system and on lots of other physical issues in their teeny tiny bodies. The nerves obviously run down through the neck and spread throughout the body. If the head has been tilted to one angle for a long period of time, or perhaps the birth was super fast and or traumatic, or the birth was really slow and assistance was needed, all of these elements can lead to baby being really out of kilter. What I found is that baby is generally really sleepy for the first few days and up to the first couple of weeks even...and then they wake up! Cranio-Sacral therapy is so incredibly gentle, much more gentle than an osteopath. In fact, they barely even touch the baby. It's incredible to witness. I know it had an enormous impact on baby Nico. He literally was a changed baby after 3 sessions. 

If you have been reading my blogs for a while now or listened to me talk anywhere, you'll know I'm also a huge advocate of getting fresh air daily. For your wellbeing mentally in particular, I'd recommend you have a shower and get out for a walk and that in itself is winning! 

I hope these tips are helpful to you. Please share them with a friend using the buttons on the left.  Please do leave a comment or get in touch with me via email or on social media for any further help. I also have some free goodies online to help you cope with the challenges of motherhood, which you can find here. There are also tons more articles on the blog to help, so please do enjoy having a look around.

Take care my lovely,

Mind yourself,

x Helen x 

Helen Plass is a Pre & Postnatal Fitness Specialist, and Yoga Instructor, working with women and their birthing partners to achieve a comfortable, healthy & happy journey into Pregnancy, birth and Motherhood. She is known for her very practical & non-judgmental approach to pregnancy and the crazy times of motherhood. Check out all her communication at NurtureMamas.com, and if you are in Ireland, her local business MumandBaby.ie