Working with Colic and Postpartum Depression

Colic is characterized by inconsolable crying that usually lasts for 3 or more hours a day, and several hours at night for no apparent reason.  You’ve checked all the obvious things, the diapers, is baby hungry? Too hot? Too cold? Fever? Teething?  Ears?  No matter what you do, baby is uncomfortable, and usually spitting up quite a bit after feedings.  Then the crying starts.  You try walking baby, sometimes that helps, but not for long.  Finally, exhausted from crying, your baby drifts off to sleep in your arms.  All the while your anxiety levels are rising to unbearable levels.


You take baby to the doctor, and after a thorough exam, the diagnosis is colic.  The doctor say’s not to worry, it usually clears  up in about 3-4 months.  Sound familiar?  Well, actually 3-4 months is if you’re lucky.  In some cases it last for over a year.  In my case, my sons colic went on for 9 months.  If your baby is really having a tough time, this seems like a life sentence for the parents. So, what to do?  Finding what works for your baby might take a little time, but is well worth the effort.   I tried eliminating foods, since I was nursing. Then after nursing for three months,  I switched to formula. Tried different formulas, different feeding schedules, different bottles to reduce gas, nothing worked.  Here’s the good news: There are several well tested, old traditional remedies out there that actually work and are safe for baby.

This is what I wish I’d known then:  Babies have an underdeveloped stomach and spleen.  This means it can be more difficult for them to digest food.    The school of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has long thought that over feeding a baby can cause colic, and that nursing or formula babies should be put on a schedule.  Fed every 3 1/2 hours, while gradually reducing the amount  of food to 1/3 less at each feeding. This makes sense to me, as it would put less stress on an already compromised digestive system.  This is a good reason not to introduce solid foods to a baby before 6months of age.   I also recommend not introducing spicy or complex foods until a child is between 7-8 years old.   It isn’t until then that their digestive system is fully developed.

There are TCM doctors who specialize in Pediatric Chinese Medicine, and have a lot to offer in the areas of colic and postpartum depression.  These doctors are formally trained in herbology can treat your baby for a specific case of colic with safe effective herbal remedies. I would personally recommend picking up a copy of Bob Flaws book, “Keeping Your Child Healthy with Chinese Medicine:  A Parents Guide to the Care and Prevention of Common Childhood Diseases.”  He’s done a lot of work in this area for over 30 years, with great results, and is a great resource.  You can also contact the Traditional Chinese School of Medicine in your area, or here in Boulder, Colorado, 303-581-9955.
But what if your baby is a skinny baby, or a baby you feel can’t afford a reduction in food, then what?  There are several herbal remedies for helping babies digest their food (formula or breast milk), relieving the symptoms that cause the discomfort.  Even the babies who are thriving can benefit tremendously from these.  In recent years of discussing this with parents, I’ve heard many stories of how these remedies worked, and essentially saved them from months of agony.  Two remedies I would recommend are Ibaba and  Gripe Water.  You can find plenty of versions of these in health food stores, or online.
Advice for moms:  It will get better, I promise, but it may take a little time.  Get Help. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get support from family and friends, your doctor,  or other moms who have been through it.  You are so not alone here, and there is a lot of help out there.  Keep your partner involved as much as you can, and try to be patient with him/her, as they may have little knowledge of what you’re going through.  Take breaks during the day just to be away for a little while to re-group.  Leave baby with your partner, grandma, or a close friend for a little while you get some air, at least 30 minutes a day.  This is key to getting your strength back, in order to care for a colicky baby. Try talking to a doctor or nurse about it, they can be very supportive.
Postpartum depression (also can be treated with herbal remedies) can accompany colic, as it did in my case. When your hormones are re-balancing, your body is adjusting to nursing, things can get hard.  Sleep deprivation from this can bring about serious depression, confusion, and frustration. Call your doctor if you feel overwhelmed.  I was scared, the depression was so intense, and I was crying all the time.  No one seemed able to help me with it. I finally decided I needed to talk to the doctor.  I called him up, and through a massive amount of uncontrollable sobbing, explained how scared I was.  My depression had reached intolerable levels,  I was worried and afraid I wouldn’t be able to cope anymore.
Here’s what he said:


Lucy and Ben~1989

“Clea…Are you getting out of bed?”  I said, “Yes”
“Doing your daily functions, cooking, and laundry?” I said, “Yes”
“Taking care of yourself and the kids?”  I said, “Yes”
Then he said, after a long pause…
” I think you are doing okay.”
I said, “Really… how do you know that?  I’m really scared, and this is too hard…”

He went on to explain, “You wouldn’t be making this call. Your husband or family member would be calling me saying, ‘She’s not getting out of bed or doing her daily chores.’  That’s when I start to get a little bit worried.”  This helped me to understand that I was doing okay,  that colic and  postpartum depression were common parenting issues.  He also reassured me that baby  would get better.
But a baby with colic  and a mom with postpartum depression can be overwhelming, especially if you have another child in the house that you are also trying to care for. Find the help you need, it’s there.  Working with colic and  postpartum depression is hard, you aren’t crazy, and you aren’t alone.
When I share stories with other moms who have survived a colicky baby or baby blues, we usually get teary eyed just walking down memory lane. For me, I was embarrassed to admit when something was too hard to handle.  I didn’t  want the rest of the world to think I couldn’t deal.  Colic and postpartum depression are just events in a parents life, when asking for help is the best thing you can do for your self, your baby and your family.

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