Babies have many ways of communicating with us. They have distinctive cries to tell us when they’re hungry, tired, or gassy, and when they’ve soiled their diaper.
The cry of a baby who has colic, however, does not fit into any of these categories. I will never forget the first time a baby who had true colic was placed into my hands. Her cry was piercing and relentless, and none of her parents’ attempts to soothe her were working. It was obvious that she was in extreme discomfort.
Her body was rigid and her abdomen was hardened with gas. Her legs and feet were flexed, her back was arched, and her fingers were clenched into tiny fists. Her crying seemed to come from the depths of her being. It is said that when a baby has true colic, their uncontrollable and inconsolable crying lasts for more than three hours a day, at least three days a week, and continues for more than three weeks. Dr. Morris Wessel proposed this widely used definition of baby colic over fifty years ago.
Since there are no exact parameters to diagnose colic, there are a number of approaches that health professionals suggest to help relieve the associated symptoms. These may include specific changes in the mother’s diet, especially if she is nursing; tightly swaddling the baby so his/her limbs remain close to their body; specific herbs and formulas designed to calm the nervous system and digestion; and, if the mother is using formula, checking to see if there are any allergies to the formula’s ingredients. Foods that can particularly irritate babies include: sugar, coffee, soy, chocolate, garlic, onion, dairy, and gluten. A more simple diet may in turn alleviate gas and digestive stress on the baby.
Other suggestions that parents of colicky babies have shared with me include: carrying your baby face-down in the football hold (see http://video.about.com/babyparenting/The-Football-Hold-for-Babies.htm) and offering the baby extended exposure to vibration, including bouncing, driving in the car, or even putting your baby in a cushioned laundry basket on top of the dryer.
From a chiropractic perspective, it is believed that colicky symptoms could be associated with subluxations or nerve interference, which are significantly alleviated by chiropractic adjustments. In my practice, I find a strong association between colic and subluxations of the upper neck and the cranial bones. In a baby, these subluxations can be attributed to trauma and tension resulting from the birth process. Often times when a baby experiences a lot of pressure in their cranium, their constant crying may be an attempt to release this tension. Infant adjustments are done with light fingertip pressure, and it is common to hear the baby sigh in relief when subluxations are cleared from their body.
It is common for parents to report that their colicky babies have improved sleeping patterns, longer periods of ease between crying, and overall improved digestion and less gassiness after adjustments. The frequency of care necessary will vary between babies, but I usually like to see babies who have colic every few days for a few weeks, until their symptoms subside, and then regularly throughout growth. If symptoms persist after regular adjustments, we will then take a closer look at the breast-feeding mother’s diet, as well as other stressors that may be influencing their and their baby’s nervous systems.
To find a pediatric chiropractor in your area, visit icpa4kids.org
i Wessel MA, Cobb JC, Jackson EB, Harris GS Jr., Detwiler AC. Paroxysmal fussing in infancy, sometimes called “colic”. Pediatrics. 1954;14:421-434._