As a new mum, it is very upsetting to hear our babies cry. It triggers our hormonal system to go into over drive and we have an overwhelming need to soothe our baby. Naturally when our babies cry more than what we expect the normal amount to be, we will seek out the help of a GP. Very often we're given a diagnosis of colic. But what is it? I've read a great deal on the subject and what I have taken from it is that the most reasonable explanation is environmental rather than physical and medical. It is my view and what I personally believe.
No one knows for sure what causes colic, but researchers are pretty certain that all babies are colicky by nature. Some babies are simply more colicky than others. It has been suggested for many, many years that it is a digestive issue of some sort, but prominent breastfeeding specialists don't agree. Why would a baby have a negative response to breast milk? Naturally a baby could have reflux or allergies, but then it's not colic it is? Then the reason is medical and it can be treated. We're talking about a behaviour which can't be explained after ruling out a medical problem and follows the rule of 3's; crying 3 hours or more, at least 3 times per week and it started around 3 weeks.
What I find interesting are the studies made comparing colic in different cultures. In tribal or rural societies, babies have less colic than in western countries or urban communities. The babies still cry, but for shorter periods. So what are they doing that we aren't? Two things stand out; one is that they carry their baby around with skin touching some part of the baby and allowing free access to the breast and the other is how quickly they respond to their babies crying. One study in Canada, which would be comparable to how we live in the UK, showed that the average response time from whimpering was 10 minutes. That is a significant amount of time for a baby to get properly worked up and if a baby is worked up it takes a long time to calm him down. When talking about response time, it is important to note that we are talking about the right response. For example if our baby starts crying and we ask our partner to have baby because he was only fed 30 minutes ago, when if fact our baby was hungry again, then our partner will feel like he needs to calm baby to help. He will be totally unable to calm the hungry baby and when baby is handed to us, we won't be able to latch our baby because he is so worked up. This in turn makes us more worked up and the environment becomes very stressful which increases the crying and the time it takes to soothe baby. Babies to first time mums are also diagnosed with colic more than to second time mums, which further supports this theory. First time mums haven't had the time to understand their baby and get used to different cues so finding the appropriate response is very difficult. By the time we have our second baby we have gotten used to the demands of a child so responding to the demands of the new baby has become second nature.
If we assume that all babies have colic to some degree as supported by recent studies, then it makes more sense to look at the ways to reduce it. It is widely documented that babies who are admitted to hospital because colic has interfered with feeding cry less than they did at home. In hospitals we have little choice but to stay close and care for our baby and the reassuring environment for the mother helps to. She knows she is in a place she will get help, even though the situation in itself feels unsettling and she will automatically be more on hand to care for her baby. So it makes sense to adopt that approach in our own home. Build a bit of a den in the lounge, restrict visitors, increase skin to skin and allow unrestricted access to the breast. Find the right support, such as breastfeeding support worker, who very often has the time to spend 1 hour with you to help you relax and feed your baby comfortably.
So what about the bloating and wind that colicky babies suffer with? When babies cry, they swallow a lot of air. Masses of air, enough to make their stomach bloat and feel rock hard. Babies who cry a lot are also sick more often because of this. If you imagine a big bubble of air sitting in their stomach and you add milk on top, then as soon as pressure is applies to that bubble, then the milk will come back up and baby will still be hungry. This is different from the normal spitting up that most babies do, so by reducing the crying, you can also reduce projectile vomiting and excessive wind. It's the colic which creates the wind not the other way around.
This is obviously not intended to make anyone feel bad or guilty that perhaps you didn't respond to your baby as quickly as you could have. I have no doubt in my mind that you used the advice you were given from health care professionals, friends and family and that you did what you thought was best for your baby. I found it incredibly tough myself with my first and sometimes I had to take a few minutes to gather myself before I could carry on trying to soothe my him. I did what I thought was best, because I didn't know that those minutes could mean that the soothing would take a lot longer. If I had known and carried my baby everywhere (and had not have been given rubbish breastfeeding advice) I am sure he would have been a much calmer baby. And I would have been a much calmer mummy. So don't feel bad if you're reading this when you're baby is older. I am sure you're a great mum!
For anyone who wants to read more about this I recommend looking at Ian St James-Roberts and/or Jack Newmans work.