Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Infant Colic Facts. . . What to Do, and Not Do

By Kathy A. Schaeffer

No matter how much time has passed since going through it, the word "colic" still brings the memories of anxiety to any parent having experienced it sometime in their baby's life. My daughter was a colicky baby and I learned a lot during those seemingly endless months. Probably the most important thing to remember is that babies are very different and what will work for one child will simply not affect another.

Depending upon the literature you peruse, the number of babies who suffer from colic ranges from one in five to one in ten. A lot of the statistics and numbers won't really matter to the frazzled parent who is frantically searching for ways to comfort their baby, however. The unexplained crying usually begins when the baby is a few weeks old and continues sometimes until the child is three to five months old.

The episodes of colic often, but not always, start at the same time of day, and that time in many instances is near the evening hours. The crying may last for a relatively short time or it may go on for several hours.

Before panicking about colic, be sure to take steps to make certain nothing else is causing discomfort in the baby. Has the baby been fed? Is the diaper clean and dry? Have you checked with the baby's doctor to make sure there isn't a physical medical problem that is causing discomfort, thus crying? You will also want to make sure if you are breastfeeding, that there isn't anything you are eating that might be causing distress. If none of the above factors explain the crying, you may be dealing with colic.

So what's a parent to do? In my own case, a few things worked for my daughter, but many other things didn't work at all. She always quieted down with a car ride, but with today's gas prices, I'm not sure that option would be at the top of many parents' lists of things to try for colic.

I picked up on the thing that worked best in my case from an infant care book. It had said that many colicky babies stopped crying when hearing a vacuum cleaner. I tried it and it worked the very first time and what a relief it was. I had a problem with running the vacuum itself for so long at a time, so I made a cassette tape of the vacuum sound and was thrilled to find out that it worked just as well. I also read at the time that it was believed that the noise a vacuum makes mimics the sounds that a baby hears before birth while still in the womb.

Some babies will respond to an infant swing's movement, or just being carried around the house for a while, being "on the move" is what's important here. I remember my grandfather telling me that when my mother had colic, all that worked was carrying her around the house with her tummy against his hand. Apparently at the time, the belief was that it was gas pain, and since the pressure on the tummy worked in their case, there may be something to that theory although no one knows for certain.

My pediatrician suggested fennel tea, and although I bought some, I never felt comfortable giving tea to a baby, no matter how weak it was suggested the tea should be given. I've heard recently that star anise tea, much like fennel, was also recommended in the past but is no longer considered safe. There are also other herbal teas that may be recommended. It is vital to make sure to collect all the facts and even ask for a second opinion if you do not feel comfortable with a doctor suggesting this remedy. In the star anise example, it was found to contain a toxic compound and may cause neurological problems in babies.

What causes this thing that seems to put babies in so much discomfort? Many medical experts have many different theories on the answer to that. It could indeed be an intestinal / gas problem, it could be intolerance to lactose, or it could have roots in the nervous system.

In some clinical tests, it has been shown that there often isn't any pain involved, so that fact should help to comfort parents who worry that the child is suffering with excruciating pain. On the other side of that coin, babies often have a bowel movement or pass gas after a colic episode, and they also often draw their legs up to their chest during the colic episode, so that would seem to indicate there may indeed be some discomfort. The bottom line is that although it's been a malady of babies throughout time, the causes are still unidentified.

Remember that as the parent, you also need to take care of yourself mentally and physically. If you need to take a little time for yourself to read, listen to music, or just take a drive, anything that will help you to cope with the stress level, by all means, plan to do that. Of course it goes without saying to be sure to leave the baby with a responsible adult who is trusted before doing this.

I found that if I sang when the baby was crying, it helped to keep me calm. I had been assured that it wasn't a medical problem and I made sure a diaper change wasn't needed, or a feeding. After that point I found that singing, although it didn't really calm the baby, helped me to stay in a serene and composed place emotionally.

It is important to remember that colic is not an illness and that it won't last very long. Granted it may seem that way, but as mentioned earlier, it's generally totally gone by the 5 month milestone.

There are a few myths associated with colic that have not been substantiated. When the subject arises, the parent will often hear someone say that colic is more prevalent in firstborn children or in girls or in babies that are not breast fed. None of these things have been proven to be true. One thing to consider, however, is that if the baby is bottle fed, it may be a case of lactose intolerance and you may need to consider a soy based formula if your doctor recommends that change. Although that problem can cause a fussy baby, it has not been proven that it has anything to do with actual colic.

It is very sad to have to add this to an article on colic, but it is also very important. If you feel yourself becoming frustrated to a point of anger from a baby's continuous colicky crying, or see that someone else in the household is becoming that way or experiencing those emotions, remove the baby to safety immediately. Let a relative or some other trusted adult take care of the baby for a little while. Do not be afraid or ashamed to ask a professional for help if you are having serious difficulties dealing with this part of your baby's life.