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Help My baby won’t stop crying – Natural Treatments for colic
Colic is the most common condition in little babies and is characterised by excessive and inconsolable crying. It can also be quite distressing and stressful for parents as nothing they seem to do can relieve their baby. It is also a tricky condition for medical practitioners to treat as the cause of colic is unclear – although a number of causes have been identified.
I commonly encounter mums wanting advice on how to treat their colicky baby in general practice. These are my top tips that I share with my mums and I hope they help you.
Some babies prefer different positions in which to be held.
Try holding your baby upright against your chest or lying of her tummy over your arm. Some babies find these positions soothing. However often this is just a bandaid solution and what your baby really need is to be carried.
Carry your baby
I know that when I have carried my babies in a wrap they are much more settled than when I try to settle them in a bassinet. They like the warmth, the closeness and the motion. In non-westernised cultures it is normal to have a baby close by wearing them in a sling or carrier. Western cultures have taken a different approach – to have their baby in a cot or bassinet and hold them in response to crying. Studies have shown that babies in cultures where carrying their baby is the norm cry less frequently than babies in cultures where we hold a baby in response to crying. When babies are carried they feel warm and secure and it simulates the womb environment as closely as is possible. When snuggled up close to mums chest baby can even hear mums heartbeat and breathing and these sounds and motions which were so familiar to her while in the womb. This is the environment that baby has grown and lived in for the past 9 months. To then be born and taken and put into a bassinet away from human contact is almost cruel when they have been surrounded by it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
There are a number of pharmaceuticals on the market for babies. The medications are not entirely safe, often contain alcohol and high sugar content. I prefer a gentler, natural approach.
The top herbal treatment I recommend for colic is fennel seed extract. Fennel seed oil has been found to reduce spasms of the intestines and to increase movement though the abdomen. Studies have shown that crying is reduced by 43 percent when fennel seed oil is used on colicky infants. Fennel seed oil is available in a number of preparations including nursing teas for breastfeeding mums and drops for baby such as colic calm – which I have prescribed with success.
Most of these herbal preparations also contain other herbs which are well known to have a calming effect including chamomile, catmint, lemon balm, dill, and caraway. Although these have not been tested in clinical trials, because of the known calming effects they are often combined with fennel seed oil in colic preparations.
Some babies have an imbalance of their gut microflora – that is the bacteria that live in their gut. This bacteria is essential for digestion, production of some B vitamins and vitamin K and also performs a role in helping defend the body against hostile bacteria. It also plays a role in allergy development. Baby’s gut is sterile at birth but is colonised in the first days of life from the mothers’s birth canal, breast and skin. The gut flora that develops varies depending if your baby is bottle or breast fed. There is a fairly recent research that indicates that colicky babies have different gut flora from non-colicky babies. One clinical trial has shown that the average length of crying is reduced in babies treated with probiotics. There was a reduction in crying in 95 percent of infants on probiotics compared with 7 percent of infants treated with simethicone – a conventional medication for colic. There is ongoing research in this area.
Diet for Colic
Some babies are sensitive to cows milk proteins. If you are breastfeeding it is worthwhile trialing a dairy-free diet to see if this has any effect on your baby’s crying – especially if there is eczema associated with the colic. The trial should last for at least 2 weeks to see if there is improvement. It needs to be totally dairy-free. In other words there is often hidden dairy in processed foods such as cakes and biscuits. If you do this make sure you have adequate calcium intake through other foods such as dark leafy greens, almonds and fish.
Likewise forumula-fed babies who are suspected to be sensitive to cows milk formula benefit from a hydrolysed formula.
Reduce Stress and Take Care of Yourself
Often crying really affects the mood, stress level and mental health of parents – particularly mums who are literally often the ones left holding the baby. If your baby cannot be settled despite your efforts and you just need some time to clear your mind, often the motion of the stroller or car can be a comfort and may settle down your baby. Ask your partner or a friend to watch your baby so you can have a 15 minute walk that is ‘cry-free’. If you are home alone and need a break – you can place baby in a safe place like their bassinet or cot and just having a shower or vacuuming in another room away from the crying noise can help.
Keep in mind that colic is a temporary condition. Crying increases from birth to a peak at 6 weeks and then slowly reduces from here to between 3-4 months of age. Interestingly those babies who are carried in slings and wraps do not experience that increase in crying time. Those first 6 weeks can be a blur as mum is sleep deprived in addition to coping with an unsettled baby. Take things day by day, often the goal is to survive the day intact.
When that first smile appears around the 6 week mark though, it is all worth it… and from thereon in it just gets better as you watch this little person open up and their little personality develop.
Alexandrovich I, Rakovitskaya O, Kolmo, E Sidorova, T Shushunov S. The effect of Fennel (foeniculum vulgare) seed oil emulsion in infantile colic: a randomized, placebocontrolled trial. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003;9(4):58 – 61
Savino F Emanuela P Palmeri E 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(1):e124-–130
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to replace personal medical advice. It is intended to inform people about natural ways to improve their health and the health of their families. I recommended you discuss your symptoms with your medical practitioner and develop a personalised health plan best for you and your baby.