I picked up a copy of “The Happiest Baby on the Block” at a thrift store the other day. I actually hadn’t read it, though talked with many parents who had found it beneficial. I like that it emphasizes carrying, cuddling and not leaving baby to “cry-it-out”, especially before 6 months old. I do wish it focused a little bit more on the individual child, and the individual parent-child relationship.
Reading through this sparked my curiosity about the term “colic”. The mayo clinic defines colic in the following way:
“ Colic is often defined as crying more than three hours a day, three days a week for more than three weeks in an otherwise well-fed, healthy baby. What is most important for the diagnosis is sustained crying in an otherwise healthy baby for a regular period of the day lasting for several weeks.”
My mother says that I was colicky, both my sister and I, in fact. And that the pain of that cry, coupled with the pain of the “spinal headache” she was left with after her epidural was nearly unbearable. I can only imagine! Though I have no “scientific” proof of this, I have often suspected that my potentially unnecessary cesarean delivery, surgery at 6 weeks, and almost exclusive formula feeding (first dairy based and then soy based) had a lot to do with health problems I suffered during childhood. (Childhood asthma, allergies, and incorrectly diagnosed IBS).
While reading this popular book I decided to explore and see if there is any current research that supported my theory. Here’s what I discovered:
Turns out that colicky babies are more likely to:
– be premies
– be born via cesarean
– have less than 10 hours of cuddling a day
Here’s why I think the first two are actually symptoms of the same problem: healthy gut flora! Scientists are finally realizing that the human body is most bacteria (called the microbiome”). Everything from weight issues to disease are found to be connected to the amount of healthy bacteria in our bodies- something that has been previously ignored for a large part in the medical community, since antibiotics were hailed as the solution for every ache, bruise or sniffle.
Turns out my theory actually has been examined. A 2009 study found that babies with colic have more intestinal inflammation and the colic was resolved with probiotic treatment!
So what do the first two things correlated with colic have to do with gut flora?
1. Premature babies are more often born via cesarean or to a sick mama (more likely to have had antibiotics during pregnancy or labor). They is also a newer theory that premature babies have been born to a mama who had an imbalance of healthy bacteria and transferred the bacteria to the fetus, stimulating labor to begin prematurely. Read about it here.
2. It is unclear whether bacteria are acquired during pregnancy or through the birth canal. There seems to be some evidence for both theories, perhaps we acquire our bacteria both ways. Either way, studies show that cesarean babies have lower amounts of healthy gut flora. In fact, it is shown to disrupt their intestinal flora for 6 months after birth!
So what to do for a colicky baby? (These are just some ideas, by no means a substitute for personal advice for your specific baby)
1. Get a good infant probiotic. If you did have a cesarean in particular, or received antibiotics during labor for GBS or other infection, baby is at a much higher risk for not only colic, but thrush, and generally lower immunity. (When we wipe out the harmful bacteria we also wipe out the good!) Replacing with a high quality infant probiotic will help!
2. Breastfeed. Breastmilk has naturally occurring pro and pre-biotics. These help your baby not only acquire immunity but a strong digestive system. Breastfed babies have lower rates of allergies and illness. If you are breastfeeding, eat lots of home fermented foods! These foods have incredibly high amounts of naturally occurring probiotics: Kombucha (homemade or store bought, as long as it’s labeled “raw”), homemade sauerkraut (store bought has been heat treated killing all bacteria), plain yogurt or kefir. Check out the book The Art of Fermentation, or Nourishing Traditions for ways to get started.
3. Get the book “The Happiest Baby on the Block“. Learn about “the 5s” for soothing baby. Especially during the first 6 months of life avoid the “cry it out method” that has been shown to impair neurological development because of the incredible increase in stress hormones in the baby’s body. (I know there are a million theories about how to best get a baby to sleep well and often, and I’m not saying 100% of the time anything works for 100% of kids, I’m just saying, avoiding this method as a habit. Being as consistent in your quick response to babies at this age as possible has positive effects on their stress level and therefore development. I’m not talking about getting your two year old out of time out because they’re crying- that’s a discipline situation – newborns and infants cannot and should not be disciplined.)
4. Spend lots of time cuddling, swaddling and baby wearing. This study (St James-Roberts I, Alvarez M, Csipke E, et al. 2006. Infant crying and sleeping in London, Copenhagen and when parents adopt a proximal form of care. Pediatrics 117:e1146-55 ) was cited in an article about colic stating that babies with less than 10 hours of cuddling a day were more prone to colic. However, I’ve been unable to find this actual study. Anecdotal evidence supports that babies in baby carriers or arms of a caregiver most of the day tend to have less colic (perhaps because the care giver is more likely to be aware of baby’s needs more quickly due to proximity.)
Give yourself a break! Parenting is hard, babies are all different, and there is no black and white, easy answer to any of it. It’s all a relationship between each individual child and their individual care givers. But hopefully this has enlightened you a bit and maybe added some tools to your toolbox. Happy mothering!
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