First, let’s start with some definitions. Colic is intense or excessive crying, which lasts more than 3-hours per day for more than 3-days per week, in an otherwise healthy baby who is between 3-weeks and 3 months old. It is often worse in the evenings and peaks at around 6-weeks of age. It’s unclear what causes colic, but one theory is that baby’s digestive system is still immature and learning how to work. Other theories include food intolerance, reactions to emotions or family stress, or just a normal developmental stage. Whatever the cause, colic can make baby appear very uncomfortable, making parents equally miserable.
Before we jump into some integrative and holistic tips to help colicky babies feel better, let’s make sure all of baby’s needs are met. Is she hungry? In need of a diaper change? Too cold or too warm? Sometimes it’s as simple as addressing those needs.
7 holistic ways to calm a colicky baby
1. Incorporate some preventive measures.
Breast fed babies often need to feed every 2 hours, so don’t hesitate to feed your baby on demand, particularly in the first 2-3 months of life. If you are formula-feeding, know that babies who drink iron-fortified formula have less colic than those who drink formula that isn’t iron-fortified.
Carrying your baby (either in your arms or in an infant carrier) for at least 3-hours a day can drastically reduce the amount of crying that babies do each day. Also, studies show that when parents respond to their babies’ cry quickly (within 90 seconds), babies cry less overall (not just in the short-term). You can’t spoil an infant so hold her, love on her, and respond lovingly and quickly to her cries.
2. Provide a soothing environment.
If you are feeling anxious, take some deep, cleansing breaths. Play soft music or white noise for baby. Dim the lights, and try holding baby in different positions. Having a bit of pressure on their bellies can help, so holding baby over your shoulder or on your leg with her belly down can be soothing. Also try rocking baby gently, using a swing or vibrating chair, or even going for a walk with baby in the stroller or carrier. You can also try a warm (not too hot!) rice sack gently on baby’s belly.
3. Use essential oils.
Try giving baby a tummy massage using warmed olive oil or coconut oil, with the addition of a drop of essential oil – the essential oils that work best for belly troubles and colic are ginger, fennel, lavender, geranium, and chamomile. At least half an hour after feeding, hold baby slightly on her side and give her a gentle clockwise massage on the belly using your warm oil blend. It is soothing to both baby and parent, and will encourage bonding while making baby feel better.
In addition to using the oils in the belly massage, you can also diffuse calming oils like lavender and chamomile for their soothing effects – just make sure that doors are always open when diffusing essential oils so air flows freely.
4. Eliminate possible food sensitivities.
The first one I’d recommend is a trial of eliminating cow’s milk proteins. For formula-fed babies, this means switching to a non-dairy formula. For breast-fed babies, mom can eliminate dairy from her diet for a trial period. Just be aware that it may take up to a week for the milk proteins to be totally out of your system so don’t expect an immediate change.
If baby is breast-fed, it might be a good idea for mom to keep a food/colic diary. Keep track of what you’ve eaten as well as the length and severity of baby’s crying. You may find that some common culprits like wheat, soy, corn, eggs, cabbage, broccoli, onions, or beans might be associated with increased crying in baby a few hours later. If that’s the case, do your best to eliminate the inciting food from your diet.
5. Consider Gripe Water or ‘Colic Calm.’
I will say not all “gripe water” products are created equal, and hunting down the right one can be incredibly frustrating for sleep-deprived parents who are desperate to give their new baby relief. Though there hasn’t been a lot of research into these products, parents often remark how they’ve seen noticeable relief in their child’s gas, colic, and other gastrointestinal discomfort. Choose one that does not contain alcohol! One product our patients have had great success with is the homeopathic blend, Colic Calm. You can split the dose up into tiny amounts throughout the day or try giving 15-20 minutes before a feed or as your baby expresses signs of discomfort. Just watch out because it’s dark in color and will stain!
6. Add-in Probiotics and Glutamine.
We know that probiotics—good bacteria in the gut—helps with digestion, immune function and a whole lot more than we could possibly cover in this post! If you’re breastfeeding your colicky infant, it would be great to go beyond an elimination diet and focus on improving and optimizing your diet! Load up on probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods and consider taking a probiotic daily! Add-in bone broth 5-days a week, which is soothing and easy to sip on. Also, you might consider going a step further from an elimination to just completely getting off of grains or at least gluten, white sugar, and processed dairy. Generally speaking, our team of providers will begin to introduce a low-dose infant probiotic around 6-weeks for the colicky or re-fluxing infant. Often times, we also consider adding 1/8 of a teaspoon of glutamine powder to breast milk or formula between 4-to 6-weeks to help with rebuilding the gut. Many question whether or not it’s safe to give an infant a probiotic. And it’s always good to question anything you are introducing to a young infant—especially the first 6-months of life. Parents will want to choose a probiotic that has been specifically-formulated for an infant and is manufactured by a company with high-quality and third-party testing standards.
7. Hand baby over to someone else, or lay her safely in her crib.
If you’ve tried everything and baby is still crying, give yourself some moments of sanity by stepping away. If you have a spouse or other support with you, let them take baby for a bit. If you’re alone, it’s perfectly okay to put baby in her safe crib for a few minutes so that you can regroup. Put in headphones with calming music or a 10-minute meditation. Take a soothing shower or use some calming essential oils for yourself (lavender or frankincense are great for calming in moments of tension). Baby will still be there when you’re done with your break, but you’ll feel refreshed and relaxed, which will help baby relax too.
When to seek medical attention for your colicky baby:
- Baby is not feeding well, having diarrhea, excessive vomiting, or losing weight
- Baby has a fever: A temperature of 100.4 or higher is considered fever and needs immediate evaluation in infants, especially those who are under 4 weeks old or unvaccinated.
- Crying is lasting more than 3 hours per day
- Your baby is having colicky symptoms outside of the expected age range – younger than 3 weeks or older than 3 months.