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Growing Healthy Kids: Calming The Cry Of Colic

By Jen Allbritton, CN

The elusive infant condition called colic has perplexed parents and healthcare professionals alike for many years. The seemingly endless crying spells and sleep loss lead to stress and anxiety for all. Each baby is unique and is affected by a variety of factors, and each responds in his or her own way. Nevertheless, current research and the principles set forth by Weston A. Price give parents the best chance of maximizing their wee one’s happiness and preventing excessive hair-curling scream sessions.

Colic: What We Know

Crying is baby communication and has many possible drivers; crying babies could be hungry, cold, wet, understimulated, overstimulated, bored, in pain, sick, moody, or anything else under the sun. It often takes some trial and error to figure out what will soothe a baby. When crying becomes loud and persistent, when soothing efforts are fruitless, and when potential physical conditions have been ruled out, the doctor will generally give a diagnosis of colic—which means, “We have no idea why your baby will not stop crying!” How frustrating!

The average infant cries between two and three hours a day. The commonly accepted clinical definition of colic is the “Rule of Three.” An infant that is well-fed and otherwise healthy is colicky if it cries for more than three hours per day, more than three days per week, for more than three weeks. However, when a baby is in the throes of a high-pitched crying fit, five minutes can feel like three hours. Some people are just better able to tolerate the noise and feelings of helplessness than others. This is what makes the term colic, or even excessive crying, so subjective. A Brazilian study found that as many as 80 percent of mothers believed their infants had colic; however, using the definition above, only 16.3 percent actually had the condition. Thus, as with many things, “excessive crying” really is in the eye—or ear—of the beholder.

There are enough gimmicky “colic cure” sales pitches to make your wallet burst into more tears than your child. But ultimately, science doesn’t know much about colic. Nevertheless, there are a number of contributing factors that, if remedied, may improve the situation. These issues may or may not be directly involved in the cause of colic, but they are all things that should be evaluated by every parent. It all fits into the realm of learning about your unique bundle of joy and encouraging his or her best possible health.

Neuro-Development: The Strongest Theory to Date

Neuro-development is one of the most accepted ideas surrounding colic. The term “brain maturity” sounds sophisticated, but the concept is simple. It has been observed that babies with colic are more easily overstimulated than noncolicky babies. Once they are in a crying episode, it is challenging for them to return to a normal mental state.

This is where the idea of immaturity comes into play. These babies essentially don’t have the brain maturity to adequately transition out of an uncomfortable state of crying once it has begun.

Fortunately for these babies and their parents, an infant’s ability to come out of these uncomfortable states gets better with age. This is confirmed by the fact that colic or excessive crying usually subsides by four months of age. Another observation that supports this theory is the fact that many colicky babies are over-stimulated by “normal” soothing techniques, including rocking and singing. They tend to do better with white noise, darkness, and swaddling —but not always. Remember, each baby is different, and reading your baby’s signals is key to a solution.

Weston A. Price Knew All Along

Ultimately, support of brain development and growth are fundamental in preventing and calming the cries of colic. Weston A. Price’s Wise Traditions approach to nutrition provides the best basis to achieve these goals. The Wise Traditions dietary principles center on supplying the body with liberal amounts of the nutrients that support nervous system health, including cod liver oil, organ meats, and traditional fats. Parents all over the world can attest to the value of adhering to a Wise Traditions diet before conception, as well as throughout pregnancy and lactation. A traditional diet high in vitamins A and D (seafood, cod liver oil, organ meats, egg yolks, and butterfat from grass-fed animals), bone broths, and properly prepared whole foods allows children to reach their maximum genetic potential. Children born to parents who follow Wise Traditions practices tend to have freedom from allergies and illness, good immune systems, and happy, calm dispositions. It has been seen time and time again that these principles support neural function as well as encourage a happy demeanor in infants and children.

Is There a Gut Connection?

Most doctors believe that intestinal problems cause colic, although research does not support this contention. However, some babies do feel discomfort caused by spasms of the intestinal smooth muscle and/or gas, which can lead to more crying spells. Positive results when antispasmodic pharmaceuticals are administered confirm this. Similarly, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study using a tea made from traditional antispasmodic herbs (chamomile, vervain, licorice, fennel and lemon balm) was found to be more effective at reducing crying time in colicky infants than a placebo. In this study, approximately half a cup of tea was given during each colic episode, up to three times per day. These herbs can be used alone or in combination, and can either be taken by a breastfeeding mother or given straight to a baby using an eyedropper (between 10 and 20 drops).

Another study of colicky infants using just an emulsion of fennel seed oil showed a decrease in the intensity of colic in 65 percent of cases, compared to 24 percent who received a placebo. The amount used was 1 to 4 teaspoons of a water emulsion of 0.1 percent fennel seed oil, up to four times per day.

Susun Weed, a well-known herbalist, recommends slippery elm bark as a digestive soother for colicky infants. When prepared, it becomes a thick “gruel” instead of normal tea. You can make it by mixing a liquid sweetener (barley malt, sorghum, or maple syrup) with the bark powder until it is thoroughly wet. Slowly add warm milk or water until it creates a porridge. Weed says there is no known limit to the amount that can be consumed safely. For colic, she says to add one or more servings to the diet to help quiet the intestines.

Reflux can also contribute to intestinal discomfort. In one study, babies with colic experienced more reflux episodes than those without the condition. Bear in mind, other symptoms often accompany reflux, such as severe spitting up, coughing, gagging and poor weight gain. Constipation is another possible cause of discomfort and has obvious signs that can be remedied.

Intestinal dysbiosis, or poor microflora balance, may also cause howling screams. In a double-blind study of infants, supplementation of a standard milk-based formula with probiotic organisms (Bifidobacterium lactis and Streptococcus thermophilus) significantly reduced the frequency of colic, compared to the same formula minus the probiotics. Similarly, another study found that after a month of administering probiotic oil drops with Lactobacillus reuteri bacteria, parents reported significantly less screaming in their children. Support of intestinal microflora is a core concept in the Wise Traditions diet. A probiotic supplement is a base ingredient in the recommended homemade baby formulas, just as cultured and fermented foods are recommended for adults.

Besides affecting overall development, nutrient deficiencies can impact digestion, increase gas and cramping, and disturb bacteria balance. All of the B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and essential fatty acids play a role in intestinal health. These nutrients are all found in appropriate amounts in healthy breast milk, as well as in Wise Traditions homemade baby formulas.

Foods: Friend or Foe? Is it a coincidence that the number of colic diagnoses has increased alongside autism and other disorders with our “advancements” in food processing and agricultural methods? Probably not. We are bombarded with toxins from our food, air, and water, and children are even more susceptible than adults to their dangers.

Food allergies are an area of interest when it comes to colic. A number of clinical studies support the theory that discomfort may be caused by negative reactions from food allergies. For example, children have been known to be intolerant to milk proteins from a cow’s milk–based formula. If a baby is breastfed, certain foods in the mother’s diet may provoke an allergic reaction in the baby as well. For example, pasteurized cow’s milk consumed by a breastfeeding mother has been shown to trigger colic.

Another double-blind study found that restricting certain allergy-triggering foods from the mother’s diet significantly reduced colic symptoms in infants. Although pasteurized cow’s milk is the most common allergic food, others to consider are soy, nuts, and gluten (found in wheat and other grains.) Traditional food preparation methods may play a role in how the mother and child are reacting.

Bear in mind, if a food allergy or sensitivity is present, other symptoms will most likely appear, including gas, bloating, eczema, spitting up, diarrhea, or bloody or green stools.

Milk: Commercial vs. Raw

Pasteurization is a damaging process that alters the physical structure of the fragile proteins in milk, resulting in deformed and broken proteins the body is not equipped to handle. Additionally, pasteurization virtually eliminates milk’s good bacteria and radically reduces its nutrient content. On the other hand, raw milk from pastured cows is one of the most healing foods available. The allergy studies condemning cow’s milk evaluated the effects of pasteurized and homogenized commercial varieties. Although no studies have looked at the effects of raw milk versus pasteurized on colic, the superiority of raw milk has been demonstrated many times with babies and nursing moms on Wise Tradition diets.

To ensure proper digestion of milk, the Wise Traditions raw milk baby formula goes a step further by adding gelatin. There is extensive research showing that gelatin can improve the digestion of milk and milk products. In fact, early 20th century textbooks recommended inclusion of gelatin in infant formulas to help bring cow’s milk closer to human milk. Studies indicate that gelatin inhibits curd coagulation, helps emulsify the fat, and stabilizes the casein to improve the digestibility and absorption of the fat. As a result, infants fed gelatin-enriched formulas have shown fewer allergic symptoms, vomiting, colic, diarrhea, constipation, and respiratory ailments than infants on straight cow’s milk.