A mama knows her kids. Or so we like to think, anyway. I, for example, knew my newest little addition in utero — I mean, we spent a lot of time together… time at the gym and prenatal yoga, time doing crosswords at 3am when i couldn’t sleep, time sharing in the trials and tribulations of everyday life — all of this before he ever saw the light of day. We were connected. And I decided, from this place of deep connection, that I could feel his personality (I still, by the way, believe this to be true.) When pregnant with my first son, I had accurately predicted him to be gentle and sweet-tempered, but shy perhaps, and stubborn as a mule. (I gleaned much of this from the way he adamantly and predictably refused to move even a millimeter when anyone would put a hand on my belly, even if he had been doing intra-uterine gymnastics before…it was as though he was saying, “mama, I’m no dancing monkey.” Lo and behold, he came out and for nearly two years was wary of strangers — and, on occasion, his poor, solicitous dad.)
Flush with the success of my predictions with Aidan, I confidently gave it another go with Ammie — ‘he’s good-natured, unusually good-natured, social, and, yes, mellow, definitely mellow’ — he moved only gently and easily day and night, and when he did kick, would happily kick away under the expectant hands of family and strangers alike. Their colors show themselves immediately, I believe, and if they don’t, I liked to believe my happy predictions anyway — because who wants to believe they are about to give birth to a little hellion?
Imagine my surprise then when, after a first few newborn weeks that neatly fit my expectations, my little Angel turned Gripe-y. I don’t mean a little gripe-y either, 5-7 witching-hour gripe-y. I mean ALL THE TIME. Nothing satisfied him. And whether imagination or intuition took over at this point, I don’t know. All I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, was that this was NOT his inherent nature. Maybe it never is with any baby. After an embarrassing number of sleepless nights, internet searches, and shame… I decided to go back to my roots as a pediatric expert — and go extreme.
I called my husband at work, suddenly empowered again. “I do this for a living!” I cried in revelation. “We can put all our resources to work and figure this out — he’s uncomfortable!” This was the start of the best baby-weight-loss program EVER — I cut out every food that was featured on any list ANYWHERE of gassy foods, foods to avoid, culprit foods, you name it. In other words, I cut out everything I liked.
No milk, no onions, no beans, no peanut butter, no cruciferous vegetables, no gluten, no — ah the last holdout — no chocolate. (Remember please, with pity, dear ones, that I gave birth to Ammie right before Thanksgiving and Christmas.) And, lo and behold, within a mere week, Ammie turned in to the fantastic sleeper, and good natured love that he is today — we call him “The Smile Factory.” I slowly — and one at a time, experimented with which foods I could bring back — I am breastfeeding after all, which means, I’m hungry! and ultimately narrowed it to a list that makes us all happy — no onions, no cheese, no beans (except, occasionally, lentils), no tomatoes, and, strangely, but definitely, no white rice. At lunch with my sister-in-law a couple months later, she revealed that these are the same foods that have always and still cause her trouble, down to the very last one (Genetics, that crazy thing it is.) We did some other things too, things I’d like to share with any mama or papa or beleaguered babysitting grandparent in hopes that it will help them to unearth their baby’s inner angel as well, and most importantly, bring sweet babies the comfort we desperately wish for them.
But first, the moral. More than one, in exchange for all the sleep lost.
- Mamas know their babies. If you think your baby is acting in a way that is inconsistent with their inherent nature, trust your deep knowledge of this little being — they probably are giving you a message the only way they know how.
- Everyone’s got advice – I was given everything from belly belts to colic foot cream – none of it bad, not all of it practical. In the end, it came down to trial and error – every baby is different.
- Well, I’d like to think there’s a third… Oh yes. “This too shall pass.” I’m sorry. And I promise.
Now here’s what has worked for me, personally and professionally:
* Food Restrictions
While opinions even within the scientific community differ as to how much effect the foods mama eats while nursing has on her breastmilk or her baby, proteins from the foods you eat are absorbed through your intestines and into the bloodstream — and from here, finds its way into the milk in unknown quantities. Many babies don’t have much to any problem with this; however, if your baby is colicky, your diet is worth a second look. It is my clinical experience that many cases of colic are caused by mamas eating foods that are making the milk difficult for babies to digest. This is especially true if your baby seems to have bouts of crying followed by expulsion of gas, or if your baby has constipation, diarrhea, rashes, or congestion. I am also suspicious of food sensitivities if baby was premature, or if you or your spouse have a family history of digestive or respiratory difficulties.
When baby arrives, the lining of his or her intestines is immature, making it more difficult to digest and absorb foods for the first six months than it will be in the months that follow. This is why most pediatricians and childcare experts recommend waiting to start solids with your baby for at least six months (in some cases, I even recommend a bit longer). If your child cannot tolerate an ingredient you are ingesting, this does not mean he or she will be sensitive to it forever — but for now, avoiding it could give baby — and you! — much needed comfort.
Scientists know that flavor from foods is also transmitted to the breast milk — and may not only have a correlation to baby’s enjoyment of the milk, but may also correlate to what foods baby will like as solids (in other words, a mama who eats lots of carrots while nursing may have a baby who likes carrots as a solid — for more interesting information on this connection, check out: Here). Its not such a leap then, that the foods we eat also have an impact on the digestability of the breast milk for certain infants – a tenet of Grandma’s kitchen table wisdom in many cultures.
The main culprits:
- milk and dairy products
- cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, kale, cauliflower)
- “gassy” vegetables (including onions, asparagus, green peppers, tomatoes)
- spicy foods
- caffeine (in coffee, tea, some sodas)
- iron supplements (or the iron in your prenatal if you’re taking them)
These aren’t the only culprits (remember, beans and white rice really set my little guy off – although it took me a while and a good food log to believe it), but they are the most common. Which, if any, are culprits for your baby is a personal, and somewhat tedious matter to unearth. Either go extreme and eliminate the main possibilities and then add back in, or unearth likely suspects by backtracking through your worst days with a good diet log. And give this project time. It took nearly a week to notice that the colic had disappeared — which, not coincidentally, is sometimes the amount of time it takes for a food to leave your system. If you’re not sure about some of the foods on this list, experiment by adding them back into your diet after a week of eliminating them. Some of these foods are really good for you (and by this of course, I’m talking about chocolate. :))
* Lactobacillus Reuteri
A gram-positive bacterium that is found in the intestines of birds and mammals, l. reuteri falls into the category of “probiotics” (the beneficial bacteria that makes yogurt and fermented foods popular health boosters). Studies show that the effects of l. reuteri are very specifically beneficial to colicky babies (and not replicated by other probiotics, even of the infant-formulations). A study conducted in 2007, shows that after 4 weeks of taking l. reuteri drops, crying time was reduced by 74 percent.1 A 2010 study replicated these findings with similarly positive results.2 Be forewarned when you head to the local health food store or pharmacy for these — even with all the great research to support its efficacy, I had many well-meaning folks try to steer me toward other probiotics that don’t contain this strain — they’re wonderful for other things, but have not demonstrated the same effectiveness in cases of colic — in fact, they sometimes have generated the reverse.3 The l. reuteri had to be special-ordered and is not inexpensive (ringing up at somewhere around $30 for less than a week’s supply), but after weeks of crying (first Ammie, then me), I would probably have hocked my wedding ring for the possibility of sweet relief. BioGaia Protectis Baby Probiotic is what we used — a liquid formulation that you give to baby by the drop.
* Tummy Circles
One of the most effective ways to provide comfort to a colicky baby and to stimulate healthy digestive function is also one of the easiest. First lie your baby down on his back in a comfortable location. Then with the pads of your four closed fingers or the palm of your hand, gently push while rotating your hand to make medium-sized clockwise circles around your baby’s belly button. Continue in a clockwise direction 50 to 100 times, or for a few minutes. It’s unclear whether this has an effect on colic in the world of western medicine, but age old traditions of qi gong and other eastern practices place the center of much energy at this area in the body — stimulating and soothing the area around the umbilicus increases the strength of baby’s “Qi” (roughly translated as active life force). This couldn’t be bad, right? I’ve found it to be entirely therapeutic.
Here’s what others swear by:
* Swaddling: From popular books like “The Happiest Baby on the Block” to Dr. Sears’ indispensable compendium, “The Baby Book” — and tracing its roots again back to Grandma (and Grandma’s Grandma), — swaddling, the technique of wrapping baby up tightly in a light blanket to simulate womb conditions (read: Tight!), and ameliorate the stresses of newly developing, not-quite-controllable limbs, is something many parents swear by to calm everything from a case of the tired fussies to downright aggravated babies. It doesn’t hit the roots of colic at it’s core — however, any safe calming techniques could only help. The larger question seems to be, does it calm? This seems to depend on the baby. Limited research has found the calming effects of swaddling to be temporary — after a few days, there seems to be no difference between the crying in swaddled and unswaddled babies.45 On the other hand, some babies are very sensitive to stimulation — and the newborn startle reflex is, well, startling. My main bias, however, is that my babies didn’t like swaddling at all. Maybe I had a small uterus and they were just relieved to finally be unrestricted. That’s my theory. My firstborn preferred to sleep with arms and legs splayed out like he was making a big snow angel. But if it works for you, by all means… (When not to swaddle: when they’re just born. Skin-to-skin contact here, with unrestricted hands and arms helps breastfeeding, calming, and bonding significantly better than any amount of swaddling.)
* Baby Herbal Tummy Packs: My former neighbor, just about the nicest gal in the world, and mama to a now one-year-old, first provided cookies on the day of his birth, and then her baby herbal tummy pack, called “Happi Tummi” a few weeks later. Her daughter cried inconsolably during the first few months — a microwavable belt filled with such olfactory delights as chamomile and lavender, along with the warmth of the belt on baby’s belly was her number one aid in relieving her daughter’s misery. My Indian friend also swears by the benefits of a warm herbal pack on baby’s belly. The warm tummy pack soothes and relaxes the possibly-stressed, definitely tense intestinal muscles of an unhappy infant. You can buy the Happi Tummi version, or for DIYers, make your own by placing uncooked rice in a muslim or linen sack, adding essential oils of your choice – lavender and chamomile are best bets for babies- to the rice before placing in the sack. (Sew Mama Sew gives great instructions for DIY packs). Heat in microwave for 15 seconds and please, test on inside of wrist before placing on baby. Place it over the onesie or sleeper to avoid it getting too hot on baby’s sensitive skin (lets not add injury to insult…) Then remember this technique for when baby gets older — warm belly packs are absolutely great for stomachaches and bedwetting in older kids as well.
* Gripe Water: Here’s another remedy folks swear by. I keep it in the diaper bag myself. Chalk full of great tummy-relieving herbs such as ginger and fennel, it performs the minor and immediate miracle of stopping my little one’s hiccups in their tracks (boy, did he hate the hiccups for a while!) There are a lot of gripe waters on the market, however, and all are not created equal. Aniseed is a common ingredient, but also a common allergen, and gripe waters that use essential oils are generally way too strong for babies (this is internal we’re talking). You want to look for natural, optimally organic ingredients, and no alcohol or simethicone. We tried a couple of different kinds and used Mommy’s Bliss with the greatest success, but there are a number of other reputable brands out there for your own trial and error research — Wellements, Colic Calm. Did any of them stop the colic? Verdict’s still out on that one for us, but certainly didn’t hurt. It’s available Here on Amazon.
* Tea for Mama: fennel seed, Indian celery root? 1/2 – 1 tsp of fennel seeds steeped in hot water for 10 minutes (you can include 1-2 slices of fresh ginger while you’re at it) is a remedy that seeks to work at the level of “what mama eats, baby eats.” Hopefully it makes your milk more digestible and more palatable to your little one. Some Indian friends insisted that I should add Indian Celery root to this homebrew – and gave me some of their own that family and friends routinely bring back from India for them. It doesn’t smell the same as the celery root in my own pantry. Again, I cannot say with certainty that it helped, but just the ritual moment taken to nurture myself every evening (boiling the water, steeping the tea) was a therapeutic act.
And When is Colic no longer “Colic”? Red Flags That It’s Time to Visit or Revisit Your Pediatrician or ER:
- if your baby’s cry becomes shrill or harsher than usual, or lasts for a longer interval than usual
- if your baby’s poop or pee habits change dramatically or are accompanied by blood
- if the crying always comes at feeding time and includes writhing, arching, twisting
- if your baby’s soft spot is bulging
- if your baby becomes listless or lethargic
- if your baby’s cry is more of a weak moan
- if crying is accompanied by a fever or temperature drop
- if baby is vomiting repeatedly and/or with blood
- if your intuition says it’s time for outside support, something’s just not right
And if none of this works? My favorite mantra during the crying weeks was, “I love my baby, and he is perfect for me.” Corny? Maybe. Obvious? Generally. But it helped. Blessings to all the mamas and papas out there who are in the midst of weathering the storm.
1 ^ Pelle SF, et al. Lactobacillus reuteri (American Type Culture Collection Strain 55730) versus simethicone in the treatment of infantile colic: A prospective randomized study. Pediatrics 2007:119; e124-30
2 ^ Savino, F., Cordisco, L., Tarasco, V., Palumeri, E., Calabrese, R., Oggero, R., Roos, S. and Matteuzzi, D. (2010) Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 in infantile colic: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Pediatrics, 126, e526-33
3 ^ Kukkonen K, et al. Long-Term Safety and Impact on Infection Rates of Postnatal Probiotic and Prebiotic (Synbiotic) Treatment: Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Pediatrics 2008;122;8-12
4 Van Sleuwen, B. E., L’Hoir, M. P.; Engelberts, A. C.; Busschers, W. B.; Westers, P.; Blom, M. A. et al. (2006). Comparison of behavior modification with and without swaddling as interventions for excessive crying. In: Journal of Pediatrics, 149 (4), S. 512-517.
5 Long, Tony (2007). Adding swaddling to behaviour modification in infant care did not reduce excessive crying in healthy infants <13 weeks of age at randomisation. Evidence Based Nursing,10, S. 42.