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5 possible underlying causes of baby colic for exhausted mothers who have tried everything. Because there might just be something else going on. 

Colic is so much more than crying.

It’s a nerve-shattering, beyond stressful existence for mother and baby.

And anyone else living in the house for that matter.

Cats particularly don’t enjoy colic. I asked them…while hiding under the bed.

Daddies don’t like it either. They feel helpless. It’s tough to watch.

5 Causes Of Baby Colic - I Wish I Knew - Mamabiome

WHAT IS COLIC ?

Infantile colic is loosely defined as crying for an unknown reason for varying lengths of time.

  • Some say more than 2 hours of crying per day.
  • Other sources say otherwise.
  • There’s even a handy rule of 3. Crying for more than 3 hours, 3 days per week, for 3 weeks.

Because mothers with colicky babies have the time (and patience) to keep a diary…?

In other words…no one knows much about colic.

Simply, colic is a label someone coined for a distressed baby.

Who despite his best efforts in alerting his mother to a problem, he can’t quite make himself understood. Because, you know, babies can’t talk yet.

He knows crying is his only shot at communication.

And that’s what he does.

Every. Single. Day.

So we just call him a colicky, unsettled baby and try a million remedies, (most of which do nothing) and we are assured it will pass as he gets older.

Which doesn’t help exhausted mothers, right now, who instinctively know there is something wrong.

  • So you spend most of your precious baby’s life awake and resembling a lactating zombie.
  • Deep in the sleepless throws of motherhood and teetering on the edge of post-natal depression, you can’t shake the feeling that your baby doesn’t just cry for no reason.
  • Nor can you accept no one knows why some babies just cry.

Surely someone must know!

So for all these reasons (and many more) I thought I’d share my ‘colic’ theories and experiences with my two babies. In the hope they might help you.

At 2am, when you’re desperately Googling for answers.

5 Causes Of Baby Colic - I Wish I Knew - Mamabiome

COLIC IN OUR HOUSE

Our first child, Eliana, cried from the second she was born and didn’t stop.

She cried when she wasn’t asleep and she stopped sleeping well at 11 days old.

  • We had a newborn photo session that morning.
  • And after it finished I naively didn’t wake her to feed.
  • So she cried the entire 10 minute car trip home.

That was only the beginning.

She screamed for months. Day and night. She didn’t sleep. She didn’t like anything we tried to settle her. And the inevitable colic diagnosis was issued.

We spent an average of an hour getting her to sleep for every nap. Nothing came easy. She shrieked on.

She cried so much and so loud that I have reduced hearing in my left ear. From preferentially carrying her on my left shoulder.

We tried so many things…

  • Probiotics
  • Natural colic remedies
  • Gripe water
  • White noise
  • Baby swings
  • Warm baths
  • Massage
  • Baby reflexology & cranio sacral therapy
  • Read high-need baby books
  • Routines
  • And even tried a crying baby app!

But nothing worked.

Three years later, our second, a little boy Zachary was the opposite. He had to be encouraged to cry when he was born, happy little guy was content just looking around.

He slept well and only cried if he had a burp stuck. We knew because as soon as he burped he stopped crying. Cause and effect.

He was lip and tongue tied.

It was only when we took him to be assessed by a paediatric surgeon at 4 months did we discover that Eliana also had a tongue tie. And hers was worse.

I had a light bulb moment. Maybe that could be why she cried so much.

Possible Cause #1: Tongue Tie ?

5 Causes Of Baby Colic - I Wish I Knew - Mamabiome

Babies with a tied tongue or lip generally have a thicker and shorter thread of skin underneath. You can feel it with your finger and in some cases it’s obvious visually.

  • This reduces the range of motion of the tongue and/or lip making sucking and latching difficult.
  • They swallow air as they suck.
  • The tongue doesn’t contact the roof of their mouth properly and allows air to be ingested along with the milk.
  • Which makes deep gas and a pain in the tummy. And perhaps even reflux.

There are varying degrees of ties and many wonderful resources that help you determine whether your baby has one. This is a brilliant and thorough article to get started.

A few things I wish I knew about ties, before having babies.

If baby…

  • Makes a clicking sound when swallowing – check for a tie!
  • Chokes on letdown – check for a tie!
  • Has a crease on the top lip after feeding – check for ties!
  • Gags and vomits when starting solids – check for ties!

3 more things I didn’t know…

  1. The sucking motion soothes a baby by contact with the vagus nerve in the mouth. It runs along the top palate and pressure on the nerve promotes calm. But this is reduced and sometimes not possible with severe tongue ties. Crazy!
  2. There are many theories about why tongue as becoming so common. One is connected with the MTHFR gene mutation and has direct links with gut health and folic acid supplementation. A controversial and not widely known topic. But something definitely worth investigating.
  3. Another point of controversy is a lot of practitioners “do not believe in ties”. Making diagnosis and treatment even more difficult. They clearly haven’t had to live with the consequences…

We saw a lactation consult the day after Zachy was born and she advised that it had already stretched so wouldn’t likely be an issue. But to get reassessed if my nipples struggled with the munching rather than sucking.

My nipples suffered for about a week. We chose not to have it addressed and I regret it.

If I could do it over I would have it done straight away.

When we finally got a referral to the paedeatric surgeon after feeding became difficult at 4 months.

  • He said a reversal procedure would be very distressing for him. Because they are held down awake during the operation.
  • Because of his age and since he wasn’t a failure to thrive baby (he measures in the 97th percentile) he didn’t advise doing it.

But little Zachy, still struggles with trapped wind even now at 8.5 months. Although he has started poking his little tongue out and licking.

And depending on who you ask there are possible complications as they grow with jaw and speech issues.

WHAT TO DO?

  • Take a peek. Poke around.
  • Do your research – get yourself informed first!
  • See a lactation consultant or your doctor and have a chat about ties.
  • And sooner rather than later!

Possible Cause #2: Maternal Diet ?

5 Causes Of Baby Colic - I Wish I Knew - Mamabiome

If baby is breastfed, another gas causing, baby unsettling topic to consider…what’s in your breastmilk?

While breast milk is largely unstudied (some believe because there isn’t money to be made), it’s obviously baby’s only food source for those first months.

And somehow we’ve forgotten to extend the food is medicine and you are what you eat principles to babies.

Basically, what you eat, baby eats.

And before we get into it, an interesting point I discovered too late.

  • Sometimes when baby doesn’t tolerate a food you’ve eaten it may actually be your body not assimilating it properly.
  • It’s not necessarily baby being intolerant.
  • Another reason to focus on gut health long before becoming pregnant.

But for now it’s important to remember that everything you eat baby gets.

And he also doesn’t get what you don’t eat. Meaning, if your diet is lacking nutrients. So will his.

I wish I paid more attention to my diet with our first baby.

The hospital food gave me terrible gas with her. And after we came home, I didn’t eat nearly as well as I do now.

Second time around we actually took meals into hospital. To get the best start possible.

Some common foods that trigger gas in babies…

  • Cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale…
  • Dairy – milk, yoghurt, cheese, etc.
  • Eggs
  • Gluten – be wary of ‘gluten free’ – I found grain free worked better
  • Chocolate
  • Onions and garlic
  • Sugar – yeast makes gas and sugar feeds yeast
  • Vegetable oil – a big one for me this time

While I identified and avoided a  few troublesome particular foods first time around, I didn’t go deep enough with my own gut healing. A lesson I learned the hard way and changed with baby number 2.

Thankfully the only episode of inconsolable crying this time was after I ate kale.

Silly me felt like I needed more greens. But after 3 days (and nights) of crying, I’m not touching kale again until we are finished breast feeding.

Random interesting fact…

I learned recently that cruciferous vegetables are great detoxing foods for women.

  • The sulphur compounds detox the liver
  • Which also supports thyroid function and excess oestrogen removal.
  • Maybe the detoxing action means all that ends up in our milk?!? Just a thought.

WHAT TO DO ?

Tune into your trusty mother’s intuition and remove a food that you ‘have a feeling’ could be causing problems.

It may be something simple. Give it a few days and see if it makes a difference.

Possible Cause #3: Microbiome Imbalance ?

5 Causes Of Baby Colic - I Wish I Knew - Mamabiome

Which brings us to gut health.

Depending on how baby arrived, vaginally or via c-section baby was colonised with a unique community of bacteria.

And those same organisms continue to influence your baby’s digestive health and ability to digest his food. An imbalance may cause gas pains.

Nature has a wonderful way of setting up the infant microbiome.

  • Breast milk contains special structures called oligosaccharides which pass undigested to the colon.
  • Oligosaccharides provide food specifically for particular strains of Bifidobacteria and Bacteroides.
  • So colostrum and breast milk act as natures first prebiotic to encourage growth of these important beneficial probiotic bacteria.

Interestingly Bifidobacterium infantis has been found to colonise better than some other Bifidobacteria, such as Bifidobacterium lactis. Likely due to an increased capacity of B.infantis to consume a wider variety of oligosaccharides.

Many infant probiotics contain B.infantis. And may help balance a colicky tummy microbiome. Oligosaccharides switch on a variety of beneficial genes in B.infantis offering many advantages to a newborn gut.

  • Reduce inflammation,
  • Accelerate development of immune response and
  • Decreases intestinal permeability (leaky gut)!

Another well studied probiotic for infants is Lactobacillus reuteri which reportedly reduces crying in colicky babies.

We tried a probiotic gripe water during the kale incident (before we realised it was the kale) which had a soil organism Bacillus coagulans which has apparently been effective.

But a recent study also shows microbes in the actual breast milk itself to also be a major contributor of the infant microbiome.

Supplying nearly 30% of a baby’s microbial gut flora.

An additional 10% was found to come from the skin around the nipple, the areola.

All great reasons to begin gut healing and probiotics when pregnant.

WHAT TO DO ?

Trying adding or increasing probiotic foods and/or supplements while breastfeeding. And as always discuss with your primary care provider about the best probiotic for you.

Possible Cause #4: Toxic Load ?

5 Causes Of Baby Colic - I Wish I Knew - Mamabiome

This is something I first learned from Dr Natasha Campbell McBride in a talk she gave in 2016.

First born children bear the brunt of the mothers accumulated toxin load.

She explained how a mothers body uses her firstborn to detox her chemical load. As a self-preservation mechanism, from the toxin build-up over her entire life.

She went on the say that when a mother miscarries her first child it’s likely for this reason.

It’s the sad reality of our modern lives.

With couples waiting later than ever to start a family, the toxic load is increasing on many fronts. The average age in Australia is now 30 years. And correspondingly world-wide chemical use has increased dramatically.

For me, this really struck a chord.

  • I have a long history of working with chemicals in laboratories.
  • Not to mention the ‘normal’ exposure to personal care products, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and chemical concoctions we come into contact with everyday.

Although we haven’t had our daughter tested I believe this was a huge factor in her fussiness as a baby.

And our first born experience mirrors so many other women I speak to.

Our first borns were different – and not in a good way.

Dr McBride also discusses the pain children experience when they are carrying a high toxic load.

How their head just hurts and sensory input is overwhelming. It absolutely makes sense.

There were many days when I was convinced she had a headache.

  • She didn’t want to lie flat.
  • Light made her scream.
  • And so many other typical pain response symptoms.

So with hindsight I see colic as signpost for something deeper going on.

And pre-conception detox and addressing gut health is a must.


WHAT TO DO ?

Reduce your household toxin load. And decrease exposure to allow little bodies to heal.

  1. Change to toxin free personal care products for you and baby. Remembering everything that contacts your skin, will also end up in your breast milk.
  2. Stop using household insecticides and chemical cleaners. There are so many natural alternatives that actually work. Yes, even some DIY products.
  3. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding now is not the time to consider a detox. Reduce exposure as much as you can and wait until baby is weaned.

Possible Cause #5: Nutrient Deficiency ?

5 Causes Of Baby Colic - I Wish I Knew - Mamabiome

Stress (and pregnancy) burn up essential nutrients, like B vitamins, iron, magnesium and zinc.

All crucial for calm, sleepy, happy babies.

  • I was studying final year engineering when I fell pregnant with Eliana so I was basically permanently stressed.
  • And had been for many years.
  • Add to that poor gut health which doesn’t allow you to absorb those same nutrients either!

It’s no wonder I suffered from debilitating vertigo with the horrendous morning sickness. I was running on empty in the nutrient department!

My body was crying out for minerals and my baby probably didn’t get nearly enough. Despite my regular multi vitamin popping.

I later discovered vertigo is a classic sign of magnesium deficiency so upped my intake before falling pregnant the second time.

  • Magnesium is used up when you consume too much calcium. I craved yoghurt!
  • Calcium binds to magnesium making it unavailable for the myriad of cellular functions our bodies need it for.
  • Then the calcium carbonate crystals in our ears, responsible for balance, overflow from the middle ear.
  • Making your sense of balance go crazy. Serious head spins!

And so colic likely becomes a vicious cycle of deficiency, crying, more deficiency and distressed babies and nutrient poor tired out mamas.

WHAT TO DO ?

Make sure your dietary nutrient intake it sufficient and consider supplements that will support you while you need them.

Some mothers find baby improves just from receiving supplements through the breast milk.

I also have friends who swear by homeopathic preparations.

Do what works for you and your baby. And always seek help from qualified professionals regarding your personal circumstances.

FINAL THOUGHTS

For us, colic was a combination of all the above. And maybe more! Who knows.

Which is perhaps why it’s something no one seems to know much about.

It’s a multifaceted, spiralling, compounding and cyclic beast.

But I hope this is a thought-provoking start for your own research and investigation.

Uncovering the cause of your baby’s colic is totally worth it. Life is so much happier with a happy baby.

And as they say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Oh the irony of hindsight!

 

Victoria x

P.S. Share this with pre-conception mamas you know. They don’t yet know how much they need to know!

P.P.S. Have you heard about The Mamabiome Project? We’re connecting mothers through gut healing. Register your interest and join our community today!

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