Home Remedies for Baby Colic (Based on Suspected Causes)
There can be nothing more distressing for new parents than baby colic. Here are some tried and tested home remedies for baby colic that have helped many parents.
Colic in babies can be the most stressful experience for many new parents. I know, because I am speaking from experience. The earth-shattering screams. The clenched little fists. The violently flailing legs. We tried everything from shushing to rocking. But nothing worked.
I remember holding our breaths as her witching hour neared every evening. By 7pm, the wailing would begin, almost as if by clock-work. Thinking back about it still gives us the shudders. Like many other infants, our baby suffered from colic. A really bad case of it.
What is baby colic?
Paediatricians generally define infant colic as crying non-stop for 3 hours, for at least 3 days over a period of at least 3 weeks in an otherwise healthy baby. According to statistics, colic occurs in roughly 1 in 5 infants.
How long does colic last?
Colic usually begins when the baby is around 3 weeks old and goes away on its own by the age of 3 to 4 months.
Some suspected causes for colic
Even though the cause of colic is still not well understood, colic has been attributed to a variety of reasons. Here we list down some of the common suspects:
Cause 1: Over-stimulation
Experts believe that colic may be due to over-stimulated senses. Newborns are able to tune-out the sights and sounds around them. This might have protected them against the stimulation bombarding them while giving them time to adjust to the world outside. Unfortunately, this ability does not last forever and is usually gone just as the infant turns one month of age.
Without this protection, the stimuli in their surroundings can be overwhelming for some babies. This tension builds up and is released in the form of hysterical crying. According to this theory, colic can only be overcome when a baby learns how to filter out some of these environmental stimuli.
Cause 2: Gas
Another cause of colic may be gas. Some babies have immature digestive systems which cause food to pass through their gut too quickly. As a result, the food are not broken down completely, resulting in gas which accumulates in their intestines. The build-up of gas can lead to tummy pain.
One clue that the colic may be due to gas is the arching of the baby’s back and the pumping of their legs toward their torsos. Another indication of this cause is the fact that passing gas or pooping usually relieves the symptoms.
Gas can also be caused by an allergy to a particular brand of milk formula. An allergic reaction to the milk can trigger gas and tummy pains, leading to crying. Another culprit may be the design of the bottle. Some bottles may cause babies to swallow too much air while feeding.
Regardless of the cause of gas, the resultant crying only worsens the situation because it can cause the baby to swallow even more air.
Cause 3: Infant acid reflux
Infant GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) could also be a potential culprit behind infant colic. Some infants may have an underdeveloped lower oesophageal sphincter (the muscle that prevents stomach acid from coming back up into the throat and mouth).
As a result, the regurgitated stomach acid can irritate the oesophagus (the tube which connects your mouth to your stomach). Some symptoms of GERD include frequent vomiting, poor appetite, refusal of milk (i.e. turning head away from milk bottle or pushing the bottle away). Fortunately, by the time a baby turns one, his lower oesophageal sphincter has usually developed enough to protect him from GERD.
Cause 4: Tobacco exposure
Research has found an indirect link between maternal smoking and the risk of gastrointestinalI dysregulation including colic and reflux. Even without the link to colic, smoking has been linked to a host of other complications in babies (higher risks of SIDS and damage to babies’ lungs).
Could it be something other than baby colic?
Before we conclude that a baby is suffering from colic, we should rule out other causes first. Seek immediate medical attention if you notice the following:
- Has diarrhoea, especially if you notice blood in it
- Is not gaining weight
- Has a high fever
- Seems lethargic
- Might be sick or injured
What are some home remedies for baby colic?
As there can be multiple reasons behind infant colic, the best remedy is one that targets the root cause.
Remedies for baby colic - in general
Regardless of the cause, a crying baby needs to be comforted. When comforting your baby, consider the 5S:
A swaddle is comforting because it provides the snug environment that simulates the safety of the womb. Wrap your baby’s arm snuggly around her sides while leaving room for her legs to move. This will help her to feel safe while protecting her hips from injuries.
The womb is a noisy environment filled with the sound of fluid and the beating of your heart. As such, a shushing sound can put your baby at ease by mimicking the womb-like environment. In addition, it can also help to block out the noise and help your baby to enjoy a more restful sleep.
A white noise machine is a great alternative if you find it too difficult to make the shushing sound for an extended period. In fact, many baby tracking apps come with the white noise function within the app itself, so it may not even be necessary to get a dedicated machine.
You cannot spoil a baby under 3 months. If your baby is upset, pick him up and swing him slowly in a rhythmic motion. This motion is soothing as it reminds your baby of what it was like inside the womb.
Babies are born with a very strong suck reflex. Pacifiers work because the sucking motion is very comforting to babies and can help them to relax when they are upset. So the next time your baby cries, offer him a pacifier or a boob to help him calm down.
#5. Side/stomach lying
Position your baby such that her tummy is against your arm and her head is rested in your hand (think of yourself holding a football). The gentle pressure of their tummies pressed against your arm is very comforting for your baby and can help her to relax.
In addition, the following may also offer added comfort for your baby:
#6. Use a SnuggleTike
A SnuggleTike warmable plush can give great pleasure to a baby even without colic. Human bodies emit heat and a warm compress can help your baby to feel like you are near. In addition, the warmth can also help to relax any tensed muscle.
#7. Give your baby a warm bath
Think about how a nice warm bath can soothe your aching muscle. Like-wise, warm water can help to relieve your child’s discomfort. While you are at it, you can also try gently massaging your baby's tummy to provide even more relief.
#8. Try Yu Yee oil
Yu Yee is a herbal medicated ointment which is widely used in Southeast Asian countries. To apply, pour a few drops of oil on your palm. Then, rub your hands together vigorously to warm it up. Gently place your hands on your baby’s tummy. Rub his tummy by moving your hand in circular motion. The smell and the warmth from the heated oil can help to relieve some of his distress.
#9. Bring your baby for a walk/car ride
The change in environment can be helpful to redirect your baby’s attention from their discomfort. In addition, the rhythmic movement can also help to lull some of them to sleep.
Remedies for baby colic - due to overstimulation
#1. Avoid stimulating environments
Watch carefully if your baby’s colic seem to be worse when visitors are around or if she had just been to a crowded place. If so, try to limit the number of visitors for now. Also, if you have to bring your baby out, avoid doing so close to bed time. Try to keep these excursion short whenever possible.
#2. Calm your baby down
Model calm behaviours. Hold your baby and speak to her in a soft voice; or try not to talk at all. Bring your baby to a less crowded room with less people and noise, dim the lights and just hold her gently until she calms down or falls asleep.
Remedies for baby colic - due to gas
If you find that your baby’s tummy is hard, and that she often pumps her feet towards her tummy, gas might be the cause. If so, the strategies below may help.
#1. Try burping your baby
To help your baby release some of the trapped gas, hold her with her head over your shoulder and gently pat her back, moving your hand in an upwards motion. Or you can place her face down, with her tummy against your lap and pat her back gently until the gas is released. Burping can take take a while, so do give it some time before giving up.
#2. Cycle your baby’s legs
Cycling your baby’s legs can help your baby to pass gas. To do so, lay your baby on a soft but firm surface like a yoga mat. Hold his two ankles and cycle them (as if he is pedalling a bicycle). Repeat up to a count of 10 cycles, then gently bend his knees and push his legs against his tummy. Repeat the whole process 3 times.
Do note that this exercise should be avoided right after a meal as it can cause your baby to regurgitate his milk. If you want to try, wait at least 1 hour after his meal to do so.
#3. Massage your baby’s tummy
Massaging your baby’s tummy can improve circulation and bowel movement, helping your baby to pass motion and release the gas trapped within her tummy. Many parents swear by this video. Give it a try, and see if it might help your baby too.
#4. Consider probiotics
Sometimes, gas can be caused by a disturbance to the probiotic colonies that exist naturally in our tummies. If that is the case, taking probiotics can help improve intestinal health and thus reduce the occurrence of gas. A good brands to try is Biogaia.
#5. Watch what you eat
If you are breastfeeding, the food you eat can also cause your baby to develop gas. Some common culprits are caffeine, chocolate, spicy food, onion and broccoli. Try cutting them out and see if your baby’s colic improves.
#6. Consider switching bottles or nipples
Some bottles may introduce too much air. If your baby is prone to colic, try to get bottles that are anti-colic. These bottles usually come with a vent to release the air so that your baby do not end up swallowing it.
In addition, nipple size also matters since it controls the flow of the milk. Those with milk flow which are too fast can lead your baby to cough and gag. On the other hand, nipple sizes which are too small can cause your baby to take in too much air while feeding.
#7. Consider switching formula
Not all brands of milk formula will sit well with every baby. If you suspect that the milk formula might be giving your baby tummy problems, talk to your paediatrician. After switching out your baby’s milk formula, monitor for a few days to see if his condition improves.
In addition, some babies may be lactose intolerant. For those babies, a soy-based formula might be something to consider.
#8. Try colic drops
The active ingredient in colic drops are simethicone or demethicone. Both work by breaking up the gas bubbles in your baby’s tummy, making them easier to release. Even though the evidence is inconclusive, many parents find that it makes their babies less gassy.
#9. Try Gripewater
Gripewater is made with ingredients such as dill, peppermint, cinnamon amongst other natural ingredients. In the past, alcohol was also amongst the list of ingredients. However, gripewater today no longer contain alcohol. Despite being an age-old remedy, there is not much scientific backing to support the use of gripewater. But the abundance of anecdotal evidence means that it remains popular today.
CAUTION: Do not add cereals into baby’s milk
Whatever you do, do not add cereals into baby’s milk. Babies below the age of 5 month are not ready to eat solid food. Adding solid to their diet poses a choking risk and can have dangerous consequences. In addition, research has found that it offers little to no benefits in helping your baby with colic.
Remedies for baby colic - due to GERD
#1. Hold your baby upright after feeding
Keep your baby upright for 30 minutes after feeding. This allows gravity to help your baby bring the food towards his stomach instead of having it come back up.
#2. Incline your baby’s cot
This is similar to the first point. By placing the cot at an angle, gravity can to prevent the baby from regurgitating their food. However, do watch carefully and make sure that the incline is not too steep as it may cause your baby to slide to the bottom of the cot.
#3. Seek medical help
Always seek medical help if you suspect GERD. Serious cases of GERD may require medication. Some medication commonly prescribed by doctors are called Proton Pump Inhibitors which can reduce the amount of acid in your baby’s stomach.
Remedies for baby colic - due to tobacco
Unlike other causes where you do not have much control over, smoking is an area which is certainly within your means. Protect your baby by not smoking in front of your baby. Even better, quit smoking altogether.
Take care of yourself
Colic is distressing for both babies and their parents. As with air safety, always take care of yourself before you take care of your baby.
If you find yourself stressed out from taking care of a high-needs baby, try the following:
#1. Take a break
The crying from a baby can be hard to bear. If you are at your wits end, try putting your baby down in a safe location for a moment or two. If there is another person around, let the other person take over while you take a 10-15 minute breather to regain your composure.
#2. Get help
Engage the help of your spouse, parents or even neighbours. Use the time to go out for some fresh air or to run some errands. If you continue to feel stressed, try seeking help from a medical or mental health professional.
#3. Talk to someone
If there is no one to help, pick up the phone and talk to someone. A sympathetic ear can provide some release for the ordeal you are going through.
One last word about colic
Hopefully the above strategies have been helpful in relieving the symptoms of your colicky baby. Remember, colic is not a result of your parenting skill. Some babies are just more sensitive than others and it is by no means a testament of who you are as a parent.
In the mean time, take care and have faith that this too, shall pass.