Colic is something that affects nearly 25% of babies and it’s the top reason to visit the doctor other than routine visits. Sadly parents often feel helpless around what to do and are left tired, frustrated and at their wits end, not to mentioned upset and worried about their little one! Colicky babies rarely want to be put down as movement seems to soothe gas pains and is the only thing that seems to bring relief. This is exhausting for parents and can have a huge impact on the entire household. Luckily there ARE a lot of things that you can do.
TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is a form of medicine that has been around for thousands of years and has offered help throughout to colicky babies and their worried parents. In Chinese Medicine, babies are little adults in the making but are immature both mentally and physically. It is this immature state that makes babies more susceptible to illness and digestive upset as their bodies are maturing and getting stronger. Conditions most often seen in childhood are diseases that affect the lungs such as coughs and colds, allergies and asthma and the spleen/stomach (digestive system) such as colic, vomiting, indigestion, diarrhea, and stomach aches.
The digestive system in TCM is referred to as the spleen/stomach system. It is responsible for taking the food that we eat and turning it into energy for us to get about in our days and providing all the vitamins and minerals to our body to thrive. Understandable, if our digestive system is weak, it impedes our function and ability to thrive. Newborn babies have just come out of an environment where they’ve had all their nutritional needs met directly from their Mom, not having to do any work directly. Once they come out into the world, the game shifts and they can no longer rely on Mom for feeding them so directly. We say in TCM that the digestive system is developing for the first 6 years of a child’s life. Therefore, what we do in those first 6 years can be contributing to building a strong foundation for a healthy, adaptable and thriving little one. Much of it starts with those first few months of feeding.
The following are some things that you can do to help ease the stomach pains and strengthen your baby’s digestive system at the same time. If your baby still seems to be in discomfort, check with your doctor and also seek out the help of a qualified TCM practitioner as we are also able to treat babies safely and easily with herbal medicine and other techniques. In my practice though, I have seen great success with parents who work with the following techniques and suggestions.
Mother’s Diet – A study out of Melbourne Australia found that when mothers cut some of the major known food allergens out of their diet (cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, and fish) 74% of the babies improved within one week (improvement equaled at least a 25% decrease in crying) which meant 3 hours less crying or more/48hrs. I’ve seen this in my practice as well when the mother cuts out just dairy, the infant feels better.
Slower, more frequent feedings – just think of what happens to you when you miss a meal and are STARVING and gulp down your food, often eating more than you normally would resulting in feeling STUFFED. It doesn’t feel good AND, it’s not good for our digestions. Babies are no different, if they eat when they are really really hungry, there is a tendency to gulp which increases the amount of air that gets into their digestive system resulting in gas and pain. Their little stomachs don’t have a lot of room in the first place and, if space is taken up by a giant gas bubble, it hurts! By slowing down feedings and making them more frequent or on a schedule instead of an “on demand” system, the baby’s digestive system isn’t overwhelmed and they can digest what’s there more comfortably. On demand feeding babies will often put on more weight more rapidly, but that hasn’t been shown to offer any health benefits over the long run and, feeding on a schedule and in smaller amounts can significantly decrease not only colic but also earaches, coughs and colds as well as they can be a direct result of a weaker digestive system.
Acupressure/baby massage – We can do acupuncture on babies, but we rarely do and a big reason why is that they respond SO well to acupressure or massage. The great thing about this is that it’s something that parents and care-givers can do at home and work everyday on balancing and strengthening the baby’s digestive system and relieving pain…stopping colic! I’ve witnessed this first hand with a baby that could never settle and needed to be walked and bounced constantly to get relief. An exhausting and frustrating task for all involved. By simple holding the baby and applying constant soothing gentle but firm touch on a few of the following points the baby not only was calm almost instantly, but also peacefully drifted off to sleep (a first for him in that position).
By continually apply gentle and slightly firm pressure (think small kneading circles for the leg point and consistent stroking for the hand ones), you will soothe your baby and settle their tummy and strengthen it at the same time. And, it’s a lovely way to bond with your baby!
Lower leg point (Stomach 36)– a point located on the lateral (outside) edge of the lower leg between the tibia (shin bone) and the fibula (the outer bone). If you were to measure from the knee to the ankle, this point would be located about 1/5-1/4 of the way down from the knee. Gently knead/massage the point on both sides as often as you can. I find it easy to do on a small baby with one hand if cradling them in one arm. This point harmonizes the stomach, promotes good digestion and strengthens the body.
Hand/Thumb points –
a) Slightly bend the baby’s thumb and rub the line on the lateral palmar edge (outer under part) of the thumb, pushing in one direction only from the tip of the thumb to the base of the thumb 100-500 times (yes, 100-500 times! Just think of it as a soothing action and just do it constantly while holding or rocking your baby). This helps to strengthen the spleen/stomach system and support healthy digestion
b) Rub the line on the thenar eminence (the fleshy bulge at the base of the thumb on the palm) pushing/rubbing in one direction from the crease of the wrist to the base of the thumb 100-300 times. This relieves abdominal pain and stuffiness and helps stop vomiting.
Stomach massage – knead/massage the point above the navel (mid way between the navel and the tip of the breast bone) with the hollow of your palm clockwise 100-300 times. This point strengthens the digestion and can help relieve vomiting.
Remember that these may seem like little things, but babies respond extremely well to this and you’re not only helping them feel better in the moment, but also helping them to build a healthy digestive tract, which will only serve them well as they grow and thrive!