Coping with a colicky baby as a parent

Although all babies will go through crying episodes due to colic, as a parent, you should find ways of soothing your baby. PHOTO/istockphoto.com

What you need to know:

  • Sometimes, a baby’s normal fussiness turns into extended periods of crying that go on and on and cannot be soothed. These nerve-wracking crying episodes could indicate the baby has colic. Read on to find out what colic is, what might cause it and how you can try to comfort your little one.

Justine Komugisha, a new mother, had had many sleepless nights due to constant crying by her three weeks old baby. Despite being told by her mother that this was common, Komugisha did not want to take any chances.

She took the baby to a nearby health centre where she was told that her baby’s constant crying was caused by a condition referred to as colic or obwosi as it is known locally. She was then given some medicine but after days of giving it to the baby, there was no change. Komugisha later learnt that colic can worsen between four and six weeks of age, but babies get better at three or four months old depending on the gender.

Fred Kawuma, a pediatrician, says colic is characterised by intense crying of a baby for no particular reason. The cries may seem like screaming and will continue even after feeding or being put in a comfortable position. He adds, however, that colic does not cause any short or long-term problems for your baby.

“Taking care of a colicky baby is stressful and some parents become depressed by their babies’ constant cries, hence the need to seek medical attention,” he says, adding that the doctor can perform some tests to rule out other possible causes such as gastrointestinal problems.

Relief

Infants with colic are usually given a Gripe water syrup, a supplement of sodium bicarbonate and herbs of fennel, ginger, lemon and the dose is administered depending on the baby’s weight.

“Normally, since girls mature faster than boys, a girl child is likely to stop being colicky faster than a boy,” Kawuma notes. He adds that although there are no known causes of colic among newborns, some factors such as smoking during pregnancy, stimulation from external factors that cause stress, and allergies to formula milk, are among some of the contributing factors. As the baby gets older, he says, they are more capable of soothing themselves and cry less often.

Managing colic

Gertrude Namyalo, a general physician, says the condition can be managed both at home and in the hospital.

“In the past, doctors speculated that colic was caused by an infant having an upset stomach or stomach pain, although this has not been proven,” she says, adding that a baby’s ability to eat and digest food is essential to growth and development. Most babies are able to absorb nutrients and have normal bowel movements after being fed but for others, it takes time for the stomach to get used.

According to Namyalo, when colicky babies cry, they take in air through their mouths to the stomach. This air may give your baby gas and make their stomach look swollen or feel tight. However, they might get some relief after passing gas or stool.

At home, a number of parents resort to giving the child home remedies such as orange or tomato juice. However, Namyalo warns that these should be administered in small quantities or as guided by a health worker. She adds that if the baby develops fever, vomiting or decreased movement coupled with a change in their crying behaviour, you should consult a doctor immediately.

Preventive measures

Although colic cannot be avoided, too much crying can cause the baby sickness and lead to stress for the parents. The only solution here, therefore, is to find ways of soothing the baby.

Do not shout at or shake the baby while it is crying. Instead, lay them on your lap and if possible carry and comfort them instead of leaving them in the crib.

Kawuma says what a mother eats is passed onto the baby through breast milk, hence it is important for a mother to avoid consuming certain foods, especially after noticing that it is these that might be causing the colic.

“A breastfeeding mother should avoid caffeine, alcoholic drinks, or some drugs that may cause allergic reactions to the breastfeeding infants,” he warns.

He adds that some types of formula milk for non-breastfed babies may also, be the cause of colic. Here, it is the parents responsibility to look out for these and switch to another type.

Mothers should also give ample time to their babies during feeding. Kawuma says a baby should not be fed too much or too quickly because their digestive systems are still developing.

“You should feed the baby smaller meals but more often instead of over feeding them at once. Also, avoid giving the baby cold milk. It should always be warmed to body temperature,” he advises.

Handling a colicky baby

According to Namyalo, babies who have colic can sometimes respond well when handled in a good and soothing way. She advises that babies should be held across a mother’s arm or lap while she massages the back.

Cuddling and skin-to-skin contact is also among the best ways of soothing a colicky baby. This will give your baby security and warmth. “Just like grownups, when in pain, babies need to be comforted and from the mother’s warmth, they will be pacified,” she says.

 She adds that for babies with gas in the stomach, it is advisable to give them some gas relieving drops as instructed by the doctor.

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