Inconsolable baby. Frazzled parent. Colic can be an overwhelming time for families. There are not only remedies for colic but ways of lessening the crying associated with colic through babywearing.
If I hadn’t witnessed colic in a friend’s baby and seen the devastating effect it had on her family, I wouldn’t begin to understand. I would just think that colic meant crying, but it goes far beyond that.
Colic occurs in about 25% of infants. “Colic” is the blanket term that describes the symptoms more than the causes, which are not always clear. From a few weeks old to 3-4 months old, some babies cry because they are in pain. They cry themselves into another world where they aren’t aware of their immediate surroundings. They are in pain, most often assumed to be digestive pain. This may be caused by food allergies or sensitivities, by reflux, or by other health issues. Colicky babies are in distress. Their cries are piercing and incredibly difficult for parents to handle day after day.
For more than a century, it has been common to give infants gripe water, a home remedy for colic that included alcohol, bicarbonate, and herbs that soothe digestion.
Motion and pressure can help—either the motion of bouncing, motion that gently manipulates the area of the pain, or gentle downward pressure of being carrying with weight on the belly—but carrying or physical soothing that starts after the crying has begun does not necessarily help. Babies are often unresponsive to these efforts.
Parents should definitely track what the baby or mother eats, note any changes, and cut out anything that they associate with periods of crying. There are other steps that can reduce crying. Rather than dealing with the symptoms once a baby is in pain, parents can take steps to prevent some amount of the pain their baby is feeling.
Research on Babywearing and Colic
Research has shown that babies who are carried more throughout the day cry 54% less during the evening hours when colic tends to peak. “The relative lack of carrying in our society,” wrote study authors, Drs Hunziker and Barr, “may predispose to crying and colic in normal infants.” They looked not only at carrying in response to a baby’s crying but to “supplemental carrying” during the day. Carrying during the day even when the baby was not crying reduced overall crying by 43%.
Although constant carrying is unlikely to become the typical infant care-taking practice in our society, we hypothesized that the “normal” crying pattern might be changed by supplemental carrying, that is, increased carrying throughout the day in addition to that which occurs during feeding. If so, such carrying might have anticipator.- soothing effectiveness in normal infants and therapeutic or preventative value in relation to infant “colic.” Urs A. Hunziker, MD, and Ronald G. Barr, MDCM, FRCP(C), Pediatrics (1986).
I think of babywearing as the lazy colic remedy because it takes so little effort to carry a baby more during the day to reduce their distress, or reduce the amount of time most babies are in distress, in the evening when most crying occurs.
In addition to other benefits of babywearing, the closeness of baby and parent can be soothing for babies before they get to the point that they can’t be calmed. Babywearing allows a baby to be comforted by people rather than by things. Babywearing is less about the baby carrier and more about the relationship that this tool enables. With the help of a baby carrier, your arms are your baby’s safe haven away from the stimulation of the world.
Your baby feels secure and calm near you, physical closeness helps a baby regulate her systems, and this closeness helps lessen the symptoms of colic.
Hunziker UA, Barr RG. Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics 77:641-648 (1986).
Barr RG, McMullan SJ, Spiess H, Leduc DG, Yaremko J, Barfield R, Francoeur TE, Hunziker UA. Carrying as colic “therapy”: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics 87(5):623-30 (May 1991).