Colic or Reflux?
Many babies can be very irritable and unsettled for long periods during the day and night. As a parent you want to settle your crying baby but very often you are not sure why they are so unsettled. The term colic is often given to babies who are irritable but in my experience, the cause is more likely to be reflux!
Colic is defined by the Rule of Three – if your baby cries inconsolably for more than three hours a day, more than three days per week and is aged between three weeks and three months, he will be diagnosed with colic. . A classic case of colic is where the baby pulls his knees up, clenches his fists, closes his eyes tightly or opens them wide. They may even hold their breath for a short time. Bowel activity increases and your baby may pass ‘wind’. There is no definitive evidence about what causes colic. However, many health professional agree that it is most likely caused by a digestive disorder.
Reflux on the other hand is the term used to describe what happens when the contents of the stomach come back up into the throat or the mouth. The stomach contents are acidic and irritate the lining of the oesophagus in the same way as Heartburn affects adults. The breathing diaphragm is the muscle which separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. Tension through the diaphragm influences the opening of the oesophageal sphincter (valve) allowing the stomach contents to travel upwards into the oesophagus. This tension in the diaphragm may be as a result of a difficult or prolonged birth. Irritation to the nerves at the base of the skull that supply the digestive system can also be a factor.
The important thing is to get an accurate diagnosis as this will determine the treatment. As a Cranial Osteopath I see babies every day with both colic and reflux and although the parents give a similar tale of woe, the differences are there to see.
For babies with Colic I recommend Cranial Osteopathy along with other things the parents can do at home to help soothe the baby.
•Breastfeeding mothers should avoid spicy or heavy foods. Dairy products, broccoli, cabbage, beans and coffee may also need to be avoided
•Colicky babies, for some reason, like their tummies supported. When sitting down, place your infant along your forearm, face down, cradling the head in one hand. This takes practice to perfect the technique.
•Slings are invaluable when your baby is crying inconsolably. Just being nestled against your warm chest is comforting, as is your heartbeat.
•Place your infant in a mechanical baby swing. For some reason, the continual and steady back-and-forth motion has calmed many distressed babies.
•Run the vacuum cleaner. The sound is like a lullaby to the ears of some colicky infants. Sometimes, colicky babies respond to the sound of a tumble drier.
•Cut down external stimuli. Sometimes, the more you try to calm a colicky baby, the more he seems to cry. This might be because the baby’s nervous system is too immature to handle any noise. Just hold her in your arms and avoid making any noises or eye contact, which is a form of stimulation.
•Do not pat your baby’s back when burping her as this can irritate an already-inflamed area. Gently rub in circular motions on the left side of back, or rub upwards with baby’s arm straight over your shoulder.
•Look at the feeding technique and ensure the teat is not too free-flowing — I recommend medium flow. If he has taken a good feed and is still fussy, use a dummy to calm him rather than feed again, which will only make him more distressed.
For Babies with Reflux Cranial Osteopathy involves reducing irritability to nerves at the base of the skull that supply the digestive tract and reducing tension in the breathing diaphragm. This decreases pressure on the oesophageal valve, allowing the stomach contents to remain in the stomach to be digested. Occasionally babies may require an Antacid in their feeds as a short term treatment. I advise parents to see their GP for this.
For more information on Cranial Osteopathy visit my website www.theosteopath.ie
Frank Kelleher Cranial Osteopath
Elmwood Lodge, Frankfield, Douglas, Cork. Tel: 021 4364750