Even though no one completely understands colic, let’s make two assumptions: First, baby has pain in the gut. Secondly, the whole baby is upset as a result. Treatment, therefore, is aimed at relaxing the whole baby and particularly the baby’s abdomen. While parents need to experiment with comforting measures, most of them come down to motion, untensing tiny tummies, and administering the right touch at the right time. Some strategies to try are:
1. Slower, more frequent feedings. Feeding too much, too fast, can increase intestinal gas from the breakdown of excessive lactose, either in mother’s milk or in formula. As a rule of thumb, feed your baby twice as often and half as much. A baby’s tummy is around the size of her fist. To appreciate the discrepancy between usual feeding volume and tummy size, place your baby’s fist next to a bottle filled with four to six ounces of formula or breastmilk. It’s no wonder tiny tummies get tense.
2. Colic Carries. Here are some carrying positions that work particularly well for fathers who call them favorite fuss-busters: Football hold. Place your baby stomach-down along your forearm, with his head near the crook of your elbow and his legs straddling your hand. Press your forearm into baby’s tense abdomen. Or, try reversing this position so that his cheek lies in the palm of your hand, his abdomen along your forearm, and his crotch snuggled into the crook of your elbow.
The neck nestle. Snuggle baby’s head into the groove between your chin and chest. While swaying back and forth, croon a low, slow, repetitive tune, such as “Old Man River.” A father in our practice scheduled his daily exercise routine during baby’s evening fussy times. While holding baby in the neck nestle position, he took his daily walk. This took the tension out of baby and pounds off daddy.
3. Colic dances. The choreography that works best to contain colic is movement in all three plains: up and down, side to side, and forward and backward – essentially, the movement that a baby was used to while in the womb. Favorite dance positions are the neck nestle, the football hold, and the colic curl. Our favorite colic-soothing dance is one we called “the elevator step.” Spring up and down, heel to toe, as you walk, while holding baby securely in the neck nestle position. Bounce at a rate of 60 to 70 beats per minute (count “1-and-a-2-and-a…”). Interestingly, this rhythm corresponds to the pulse of the blood to the uterus that baby was used to in the womb. Another comforting ritual that worked for us is one we called the “dinner dance.” Some babies love to breastfeed in a sling or carrier while you dance. Your movement, plus baby’s sucking, is a winning combination for settling even the most upset infant. Babies usually prefer dancing with their mother; she is the dance partner he came to know even before birth. This also explains why some fathers get frustrated when they try to cut in, offering some relief to a worn-out, dancing mom. Yet, many fussy babies like a change in routine and welcome the different holds and steps of a sympathetic sub. (For more dance steps see Dancing with Baby)
4. Baby bends. When your baby is at the peak of an attack, try these abdominal relaxers:
The gas pump. Lay baby face-up on your lap with her legs toward you and her head resting on your knees. Pump her legs up and down in a bicycling motion while making a few attention-getting facial expressions.
The colic curl. Place baby’s head and back against your chest and encircle your arms under his bottom, then curl your arms up. Or, try reversing this position by placing baby’s feet against your chest as you hold him. This way you can maintain eye contact with your baby and entertain him with funny facial expressions.
5. Tummy rolls. While laying a securing hand on baby’s back, drape him tummy-down over a large beach ball and gently roll in a circular motion. Another use for a large beach ball (you can purchase “physio balls” from infant-product catalogs) is the baby bounce. Hold baby securely in your arms and slowly bounce up and down while sitting on the ball. We still have “the big red ball” rolling around our house as a memento of our bouncing past.
6. Tummy tucks. Place a rolled-up cloth diaper or a warm (not hot) water bottle enclosed in a cloth diaper under baby’s tummy. To further relax a tense tummy, lay baby stomach-down on a cushion with her legs dangling over the edge while rubbing her back. Turn her head to the side so her breathing isn’t obstructed.
7. Tummy touches. Sit baby on your lap and place the palm of your hand over baby’s navel, and let your fingers and thumb encircle baby’s abdomen. Let baby lean forward, pressing her tense abdomen against your warm hand. Dad’s bigger hands provide more coverage. Or, with baby lying on her back, picture an upside down “U” over the surface of your baby’s abdomen and using warm massage oil on your hands and kneading baby’s abdomen in a circular motion with your flattened fingers, massage from left to right along the lines of the imaginary “U.” (See )
8. Warm touches. A warm bath for two often relaxes both you and baby. Or, a famous fuss-preventer I have used with our babies is a technique I call the warm fuzzy: while lying on a bed or the floor, drape baby tummy-to-tummy and skin-to-skin with his ear over dad’s heartbeat. The warmth of your body, plus the rise and fall of your chest, is a proven fussbuster.
9. Magic mirror. This technique pulled our babies out of many crying jags. Hold a colicky baby in front of a mirror and let him witness his own drama. Place his hand or bare foot against his image on the mirror surface and watch the intrigued baby grow silent.
10. Babywearing. Anthropologists who have studied infant care practices throughout the world have noted that carried babies tend to fuss less. We use the term “babywearing” because wearing means more than just picking up a baby and putting her in a carrier when she fusses. It means carrying a baby several hours a day, before baby begins to fuss. Carrie, a mother in our practice, had a colicky baby who was content as long as she was in a sling. But Carrie had to return to work when her baby was six-weeks-old. I wrote the following “prescription” to give to her daycare provider: “To keep Tiffany content, wear her in a sling at least three hours a day.” One of the theories about colicky behavior is that it’s a symptom of disorganized biorhythms. During pregnancy, the womb automatically regulates baby’s systems. Birth temporarily disrupts this organization. The more quickly a baby gets outside help with organizing these biorhythms, the more easily she adapts to life outside the womb. By extending the womb experience, the babywearing mother and father provide an external regulating system that helps to organize baby. In comforting colicky babies, it helps to think of the womb experience as lasting eighteen months – nine months inside the mother, and nine months outside. (For additional comforting tips see Fussy Baby)