“It's just colic.” Anyone who's uttered these words clearly has not experienced the exquisite wails of a baby who seems inconsolable for days on end.
Usually from a medical perspective, there's nothing going on other than a screaming baby that may or may not have an upset tummy and doesn't want to be put down. The extreme fussiness lasts for a few months, tops, and it may get better if you eliminate nearly every tasty food a nursing mom might crave.
In the meantime, the screams drive already sleep-deprived parents to a new level of bleary-eyed exhaustion and worry. In less extreme cases your baby may have gas that doesn't pass, tons of spit up, and varying degrees of associated discomfort.
While I can only imagine how hard it must be for your little one, moms and dads, I feel your pain.
But never fear…Solutions abound in the form of safe, natural remedies for colic and reflux that are often very effective.
Natural remedies for colic and reflux
#1 – Diet
For breastfeeding babes one of the first places to look to cure colic may be mom's diet: Possible culprits include: brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, kale), allium family (onions, garlic), caffeine, spices, beans (including soy products), dairy, and chocolate. (Sorry, moms!)
Also, for babies with reflux, mom should avoid mint tea which can exacerbate the situation.
For babies on breast milk substitutes, addressing “diet” issues may be slightly trickier because dairy and soy, the usual chief ingredients of formula, can cause tummy upset. “Pre-digested” formula (also called protein hydrolysate) may be easier to digest. It is made from cow's milk that has been specially treated to break down the protein into smaller, more digestible units.
While predigested protein may be necessary for some babies, its processed nature is not ideal. For newborns taking formula (even if not exclusive) it's a good idea to add baby probiotics to their bottles to keep a good balance of healthy bacteria in baby's gut.
2 – Nursing schedule
Is he gaining weight, having lots of pee diapers, and (other than screaming and looking uncomfortable) generally thriving?
If so your baby's colic may be a case of over supply/forceful letdown and/or a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance – which can come as a huge relief for new mom's trying to eliminate everything tasty from their diets.
If baby's getting too much watery, sugary foremilk and not enough fat-rich hindmilk, the tell-tale signs of colic may result. The treatment strategies for this situation aim at getting baby's milk consumption in proper proportions. A options to try:
- Have baby nurse from the same breast for 3 feedings in a row, then switch. Express just enough milk from the opposite breast to relieve any discomfort. This method will also address oversupply over a few days.
- At feeding time have baby start nursing until you feel milk let-down. Then remove baby from breast and pump until you see foremilk change to hindmilk, then allow baby to relatch.
- Completely pump one breast to “empty” then allow baby to feed from that same side. The idea is that the less “full” a breast, the less foremilk baby will consume. Do the same on the other side for the next feeding.
In some cases, green mucus filled poo can be a sign of a food sensitivity if baby is breastfed.
While this usually resolves by the time baby reaches twelve months old, you can support baby gut health by getting rid of major potential triggers. The biggest culprits are cow's milk and soy. Other potential triggers in mom's diet include rice, corn, and eggs.
3 – Acupuncture and herbs
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be extremely effective in treating colic.
TCM call colic conditions “night crying” due to the common pattern of baby getting inconsolably upset from late afternoon onward. From the perspective of this medicine, all children's digestive systems are underdeveloped to some degree until the age of six.
Colic is a result of this sensitivity. With or without overfeeding or consuming foods too difficult to digest, your baby may have colic.
TCM treatment will vary depending on your baby's constitution and his specific symptoms, but usually will almost always include dietary alterations for baby and breastfeeding moms in addition to acupuncture or herbal medicine.
For a great article that describes colic from a Chinese medicine perspective, click here.
4 – Probiotics
You may already get plenty of probiotic in yogurt, but the strains specific to healthy breastfed babies are under the umbrella Bifidobacteria.
Typically, probiotics contain a blend of Bifidobacteria along with Lactobacillus, which help to tone baby's immune system.
I recommend a dairy free probiotic mixed into baby's bottle or breast milk. This is the one I use in my practice.
5 – Homeopathy
I recommend Colic Calm, a great product akin to gripe water, that contains multiple homeopathic remedies to be sure you have the right one.
Colic Calm often does the trick or it will at least takes the edge off for colic, gas, and acid reflux.
Note: Expect black poos. The primary ingredient is vegetable charcoal which is said to pass through the digestive tract absorbing toxins along the way.
6 – Cranial sacral therapy (CST)
A gentle and highly effective treatment process, it can help identify and relieve any nerve blockages even while the baby is asleep.
Pressure sustained during birth may cause the main nerve of the digestive system to spasm, one of the creators of Colic. CST can release the blockage gently and heap relief on the child, all with the gentle touches of a practitioner.
7 – The “5 S's”
Dr. Harvey Karp outlines these simple tools for soothing baby's cries in his book, The Happiest Baby on the Block.
Swaddling, side-position, shushing, swinging, and sucking may seem like common sense, but are sometimes forgotten in the haze of carrying a colicky baby around in the middle of night.
If you need them, the 5 S's can work a charm on your little one.
Finally, good ol' movement can be one of the best ways to calm those cries.
For some babies it's rocking or bouncing, for others a long cruise in the car.
And if all else fails, take comfort in knowing that those midnight drives won't last more than a few months. Colic will magically go away when baby is 3-4 months old, giving you a much needed break before teething begins!
When to call an MD
If your baby is spitting up excessively and has significantly less pee diapers than usual and/or a fever, call your pediatrician to be sure to avoid dehydration.
What's your best advice on natural remedies for colic and reflux? Let me know in the comments!