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Natural Remedies For Colic In Breastfed Babies

A neonate or newborn is at the most delicate and vulnerable phase of his life. Crying is the only mode of communication between the baby and the adults around him. Usually, a baby cries when he is hungry, sleepy, needs a diaper change or is just uncomfortable with something.

However, there are times when a baby cries inconsolably. This is usually attributed to colic pain. While a majority of neonates experience colic in the first 3-6 months of their life, colic does not necessarily affect every baby. It is estimated that colic in babies is a phenomenon not clearly understood and generally affects up to 30% [1] of babies.

Natural Remedies For Colic In Breastfed Babies

At birth, a neonate's intestines are still developing. It is around the third or fourth month after birth that the colic pain is probably at its worst. Though the exact causes are unclear, colic is self-limiting and resolves on its own in 90% of babies by the age of 4 months. [2]

Colic, though a self-limiting and self-resolving condition, is responsible for causing a great deal of parental distress, especially for first-time parents. A continuously crying baby that is seemingly impossible to console can be quite unnerving and lead to feelings of rejection and depression in the mother.

How Is Colic Diagnosed?

In the first three months of a neonate's life, incessant crying is the main reason for seeking medical intervention. [3] Unable to find some reason behind the inconsolable crying, parents often wrongly assume the crying to be either owing to some inadequacy on their part or due to a grave illness.

  • Doctors usually employ 'the rule of three' [2] to diagnose colic. The rule of three means that the baby has been having paroxysms of inconsolable crying
  • more than 3 hours a day,
  • for more than 3 days a week, and
  • for 3 consecutive weeks prior to coming to the doctor.
  • A neonate suffering from colic is more likely to have bouts of crying in the evening, rather than the daytime. [2]

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Colic?

In case you are unsure if your baby is actually suffering from colic, there are some signs and symptoms to look out for.

  • The bouts of crying are often at the same time every day.
  • Usually, the baby cries incessantly and inconsolably in the evenings. This crying is often seen to extend into the night as well.
  • There is no clear or discernible reason for the baby to cry, such as being hungry, sleepy, dirty nappy or general discomfort.
  • The baby is flexing his limbs much more than he usually does.
  • Some babies clench their fists.
  • Tightening of the body.
  • Either the eyes are open very wide or closed.
  • Holding of breath is also seen in many colicky babies.
  • Passing of motions is also more than normal.
  • Constipation.
  • Pain while passing stools.
  • Foul-smelling faeces.
  • The baby might be passing gas.
  • Some babies spit up a lot while suffering from colic.
  • Feeding the baby does not stop the crying. While the baby might try to feed, he will give it up soon and resume crying.
  • Putting the baby to sleep is also not a solution. While the baby might fall asleep for some time, he wakes up soon after and begins crying.

Colic pain comes and goes in an abrupt manner. Typically, a bout of colic pain can last anywhere from about 5 minutes to 30 minutes at a time.

Colic is generally seen to be a 'noisy phenomenon' [2] , for which there is no apparent reason or treatment. Making changes in the feeding schedules is rarely of any help. Similarly, there are no over-the-counter medications or painkillers available for administration to such young children.

What Are The Causes Of Colic?

Infant colic, though described by Wessel [4] in the year 1954, still holds a lot of mystery. It is also not clear if there is just one particular reason behind colic in a baby, or multiple reasons at play in tandem. Generally classified as 'paroxysmal fussing' [4] , probably the only thing certain about colic is that the baby is in apparent distress.

Studies have revealed that colic is not caused by sickness, genetics, or even due to anything that might have happened in pregnancy or childbirth. Lack of competence or negligence on the part of the parents can also not be held responsible for colic in a baby.

Theoretically, it is averred that certain factors might make a baby colicky, such as - exposure to tobacco smoke, overstimulation, immaturity of the digestive system, infant gastric reflex or an allergic reaction to something in the breastfeeding mother's diet.

Natural Remedies For Colic

As a parent, seeing your baby in apparent distress and yet being unable to do something about it can be quite nerve-racking. Finding a way to soothe the colicky baby is important so as not to cause the caregiver undue frustration. Often, continuous and relentless crying has been seen to lead the caregiver to the verge of desperation and indulge in shaking the baby [4] in an attempt to quieten the baby.

In the absence of clear identification of the causes, there is no specific medication that can be safely administered to every colicky baby. In intense and excruciating pain, colicky babies can be very difficult to soothe. While doctors generally prescribe gripe water, there are many natural remedies that can be safely administered at home.

1. Chamomile tea

Chamomile is known for its anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. It works by dissolving and eliminating the build-up of gases in the intestines and stomach. Take a tea bag of chamomile tea, brew it in some boiled water. Once it has cooled down to room temperature, you can give it to your baby with a small spoon. However, the tea must be given only at the time of the colic attack.

Studies have revealed that when chamomile tea was administered to colicky babies, as many as 57% [5] of them had a reduction in colic.

2. Curd

Sometimes, colic can be caused in an infant due to the lack of good bacteria in the gut. This can be remedied by feeding the infant a spoonful of curd. Probiotic consumption has been known to be very effective in treating infant colic. [6]

3. Apple cider vinegar

The acid in apple cider vinegar can neutralize the acidic content delivered from the stomach to the intestines of a baby. Mix a teaspoonful of apple cider vinegar to a cup of warm water. Give a teaspoon of this mixture to your child when he has colic pain.

4. Fennel seeds

A commonly used home remedy to treat colic, fennel seeds work by easing the gas build-up in the baby's stomach and by its antispasmodic effect on the intestines. For making fennel water, take a cup of hot water and add a teaspoon of fennel seeds in it. Leave it overnight. The next morning, strain and keep the liquid. This fennel water can safely be fed, in small doses, to the child when he has colic pain.

Fennel oil emulsion has also been seen to greatly reduce infantile colic. [7]

5. Carom seeds or ajwain

Also known to be effective in treating colic, carom seeds have proven to be a great home remedy for the same. There are three ways of using carom seeds or ajwain to ease colic pain.

1. Ajwain water - Take a teaspoonful of carom seeds in a pan. Add a cup of water, boil for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let it seep through overnight. Next day, strain the mixture and administer the liquid to your colicky baby.

2. Compress - Take some ajwain, place it in a handkerchief and tie-up in a knot. Place this knotted handkerchief over a heated pan. Now, use this compress on your baby's abdomen to expel the trapped gases.

3. Ajwain paste - A paste of crushed ajwain can also be applied externally to soothe the colic pain. [8]

6. Cumin seeds or jeera

Aiding in digestion, cumin seeds can help relieve colic [9] . Boil jeera in water for a few minutes. Turn off the heat, cover and let it remain overnight. Strain the next day and feed the liquid to the baby at regular intervals.

7. Peppermint

Mentha piperita, commonly called peppermint, is a strong antispasmodic and can help in reducing infantile colic [10] . Take a teaspoonful of peppermint oil and add it to the oil which you use for massaging your baby. Mix well. Using circular clockwise motions, gently rub the abdomen. Doing this twice a day can effectively reduce colic.

8. Asafoetida or hing

Firula asafoetida, or simply asafoetida, helps in relieving colic pain as it is an effective antiflatulent. Take a teaspoonful of hing, boil it in some water for a couple of minutes. Let it cool down to room temperature. Now, gently apply this mixture around the navel of your baby. Do make sure that the mixture is to be applied around the navel and not on the navel itself.

Asafoetida is an age-old natural remedy and had been known to be employed for treating flatulent colic as well as infantile pneumonia [11] .

9. Grapes and raisins

Good for digestion, grapes and dry grapes or raisins can help alleviate colic pain. Do not feed your baby the entire grape or raisin. Juice the grapes. Steep the raisins in hot water. The juiced grapes or steeped raisins - once cooled to room temperature - can be fed to the baby.

10. Green cardamom

Known for its antibloating and digestive properties, green cardamoms can relax a nauseous colicky baby. Often, acute colic pain can make an infant nauseous. Add a teaspoonful of green cardamom powder to boiled water. Let it steep for some time. Once cooled, the breastfeeding mothers can have this water many times in the day as well as prior to breastfeeding the infant.

11. Orange

Vitamin C in oranges can effectively treat infantile colic. Give your baby some freshly squeezed orange juice.

12. Lime water

Lime water can also effectively reduce colic pain.

13. Carrots

Good for digestion, carrot juice can be given to your colicky baby for relief.

14. Basil or tulsi

With eugenol, basil is a good antispasmodic as well as a sedative agent. Put dry basil in water, boil for a few minutes. Let it cool down. Strain and feed this liquid to your baby to ease colic pain and to help him sleep better. A paste of tulsi leaves can also be applied around the baby's navel.

15. Onion tea

Onion tea can be used both as a preventive and curative measure. For making onion tea, chop onion, add water and boil well. Honey and/or peppermint can also be added to it. Once cooled, strain and feed a teaspoonful to your colicky baby.

Onion leaves [12] have also been known to be used as a natural remedy for treating infantile colic.

16. Cinnamon

Known for its healing properties, cinnamon can be used to cure infantile colic.

17. Warm baths

To soothe a colicky baby, place him in a bath-tub filled with warm water. Add some drops of lavender oil as well to make it more soothing. Gently keep rubbing your baby's stomach. Take your baby out of the tub after some minutes. Do not leave him unattended at any time.

18. Warm compresses

Soak a towel in warm water. Squeezing out the excess water, keep the towel on your baby's stomach. Let it remain there for some time. Once the towel has cooled down, remove and keep repeating the procedure till your baby is visibly relaxed.

19. Burping

While it might seem insignificant, especially to first-time parents, the importance of burping cannot be ignored. After each feeding, place the baby either on your shoulder or support him to sit up. Now, gently rub your baby's back till he burps. As the burp relieves the trapped gases, this will greatly help in controlling colic.

20. Oil massage

An oil massage, when done properly, can relax the baby as well as help him digest his food better. Use warm olive oil for massaging your baby's tummy. Always use gentle strokes that are clockwise. Anti-clockwise strokes are not advisable as they do more damage than good. Mixing warm coconut oil with water and gently massaging the tummy has also been seen to help in easing colic pain.

21. Exercises

Bending your baby's knees towards his stomach while he is lying down can help in expelling gases. This procedure can safely be done many times a day.

Another simple exercise is of making your baby lie down on his stomach on the floor. As pressure is exerted on the stomach, the trapped gases are released. However, do this only for 1-2 minutes at a time; and never leave your baby unattended.

22. Fresh air

If all else fails, take your baby out for fresh air. However, do ensure that you dress your baby as per the weather.

Natural remedies are the best way to treat colic in infants. While there are many home remedies that can be safely administered to infants, changes in the breastfeeding mother's diet have also been seen to greatly reduce colic in their breastfed babies. A maternal diet rich in proteins, potatoes, lemons and grapes [13] has been seen to greatly reduce colic in her breastfed infant. On the other hand, breastfeeding mothers who had bananas and walnuts were more likely to have colicky babies.

While infantile colic is a natural phenomenon and resolves on its own with time, it cannot be overlooked or underestimated due to the psychological toll that it has on the parents. With a constantly crying and inconsolable infant in her arms, any woman can become upset. Studies have revealed that excessive crying much after the typical colicky stage, has been seen to be linked to allergic disorders, sleep problems, behavioural problems and family dysfunction as well. [14]

View Article References
  1. [1] Kheir A. E. (2012). Infantile colic, facts and fiction. Italian journal of pediatrics, 38, 34.
  2. [2] Rogovik, A. L., & Goldman, R. D. (2005). Treating infants' colic. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 51(9), 1209-1211.
  3. [3] Koonce, T., Mounsey, A., & Rowland, K. (2011). Colicky baby? Here's a surprising remedy. The Journal of family practice, 60(1), 34-36.
  4. [4] Gelfand A. A. (2015). Infant Colic. Seminars in pediatric neurology, 23(1), 79-82.
  5. [5] Srivastava, J. K., Shankar, E., & Gupta, S. (2010). Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Molecular medicine reports, 3(6), 895-901.
  6. [6] Quin, C., Estaki, M., Vollman, D. M., Barnett, J. A., Gill, S. K., & Gibson, D. L. (2018). Probiotic supplementation and associated infant gut microbiome and health: a cautionary retrospective clinical comparison. Scientific reports, 8(1), 8283.
  7. [7] Alexandrovich, I., Rakovitskaya, O., Kolmo, E., Sidorova, T., & Shushunov, S. (2003). The effect of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seed oil emulsion in infantile colic: a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 9(4), 58.
  8. [8] Bairwa, R., Sodha, R. S., & Rajawat, B. S. (2012). Trachyspermum ammi. Pharmacognosy reviews, 6(11), 56-60.
  9. [9] Johri R. K. (2011). Cuminum cyminum and Carum carvi: An update. Pharmacognosy reviews, 5(9), 63-72.
  10. [10] Alves, J. G., de Brito, R., & Cavalcanti, T. S. (2012). Effectiveness of Mentha piperita in the Treatment of Infantile Colic: A Crossover Study. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2012, 981352.
  11. [11] Mahendra, P., & Bisht, S. (2012). Ferula asafoetida: Traditional uses and pharmacological activity. Pharmacognosy reviews, 6(12), 141-146.
  12. [12] Oshikoya, K. A., Senbanjo, I. O., & Njokanma, O. F. (2009). Self-medication for infants with colic in Lagos, Nigeria. BMC pediatrics, 9, 9.
  13. [13] Hill, D. J., Hudson, I. L., Sheffield, L. J., Shelton, M. J., Menahem, S., & Hosking, C. S. (1995). A low allergen diet is a significant intervention in infantile colic: results of a community-based study. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 96(6), 886-892.
  14. [14] Sung V. (2018). Infantile colic. Australian prescriber, 41(4), 105-110.

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