THE first weeks of looking after a newborn are overwhelming enough to begin with, and then baby becomes more alert, waking up to its digestive system and all the weird sensations coming from it.
They don’t always like what they feel, and that’s when they can really find their lungs!
Approximately 20% of babies begin to demonstrate symptoms of colic from two weeks of age, and it happens in equal numbers of breast and bottle-fed babies. Colic is the term used for “excessive crying,” but it has no official scientific definition. It’s thought to be caused by trapped wind, often due to swallowing air while feeding.
The crying tends to stop and start, with outbursts happening for no apparent reason, and baby becoming irritable, fussy and cranky. They have lots of wind, arch their back, clench their little fists and draw up their legs to their tummy. They cannot be consoled or settled, which can be very worrying, especially for a new mum. This happens for more than three hours a day, for more than three days in a week and for more than three consecutive weeks.
The term PURPLE crying was coined by Ronald Barr to describe colic, and to normalise what it is that parents are witnessing.
P is Peak, with the amount of crying, peaking at about two months. Most babies outgrow it by around four months, but it can persist a little longer sometimes.
U is Unexpected, as you can’t predict when the bouts of crying will happen, or for how long they will last.
R is Resists Soothing — sometimes absolutely nothing works!
P is Pain-like face, as your little one looks like they’re in a lot of discomfort.
L is Long Lasting — several hours a day, as described above.
E is Evening, it tends to happen more late afternoon and into the night.
The main thing is baby seems otherwise well, with no temperature or other signs of illness.
While crying they may seem distressed, but they’re perfectly fine in between. Don’t be afraid to get things checked out; bring it up at your baby’s six week check-up or two month vaccine visit, or arrange a separate consultation instead. Free GP care for children is for this very reason — peace of mind!
So is there anything that you can actually do to help? It really is trial and error to see what works for your baby.
Things like keeping baby upright for at least 15 minutes after feeding, and feeding on demand rather than sticking to a rigid schedule can help.
Burping them regularly to prevent a build-up of that trapped air is really important.
Warm baths can help to relax the tummy muscles and ease the discomfort.
Baby massage classes are available to attend (online currently) and offer useful techniques to soothe baby.
A variety of burping positions are worth trying too, as is distracting them by rocking, holding and singing to them.
You can also try switching the teat if bottle feeding to one that is designed to reduce colic, as well as making sure that the milk fully covers the teat entrance during feeds.
In terms of treatments, there are a few options over the counter to try once they are deemed suitable for your baby:
Infacol can be given from birth. It’s put onto baby’s tongue, and works by breaking down the gas bubbles to a smaller size which are easier to pass.
Colief is also suitable from birth, and contains an enzyme to break down the lactose in milk which is suspected to cause sensitivity in the gut for the first few months of life. However, this product needs to be added to milk before giving it to baby, which involves expressing a little if breastfeeding.
Gripe water is suitable from one month of age, and contains natural herbal ingredients to settle the tummy.
The inconsolable crying can be soul-destroying, and leave mum and/or dad inconsolable too! Make sure to remind yourself that this is a temporary phase and will not last forever. Do what you need to do to get through it, the housework and laundry will wait. Grab a few moments to yourself when you have the luxury of a helping hand, and take that time to reset mentally. This too shall pass, and before you know it you’ll be out the other side and wishing they’d stop growing up so fast!
Dr Michelle O’Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company.
http://www.intuition.ie and @intuitionhealthandwellness
Michelle writes a weekly column in WoW!