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Working With Colic and Postpartum Depression
Colic is characterized by inconsolable crying that usually lasts 3 or more hours a day and several hours at night for no apparent reason. Have you checked all the obvious things, diapers, is the baby hungry? Too hot? Too cold? Fever? Teething? Ears? No matter what you do, the baby is uncomfortable and usually spits up a little after feeding. Then the crying starts. You try to walk baby, sometimes that helps, but not for long. Finally, exhausted from crying, your baby falls asleep in your arms. Meanwhile, your anxiety levels rise to unbearable levels.
You take the baby to the doctor, and after a thorough examination, the diagnosis is colic. The doctor says 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 lasts more than a year. In my case, my children’s colic lasted for 9 months. If your baby is having a hard time, this seems like a life sentence for parents. So what to do? Finding what works for your baby may take some time, but it’s worth the effort. I tried eliminating foods, since I was breastfeeding. Then, after breastfeeding for three months, I switched to formula. Tried different formulas, different feeding times, different bottles to reduce gas, nothing worked. Here’s the good news: there are several well-proven, old traditional remedies that actually work and are safe for baby.
Here’s what I wish I’d known then: Babies have underdeveloped stomachs and spleens. This means it can be harder for them to digest food. The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) school has long held that overfeeding a baby can cause colic and that breastfed or formula babies should be scheduled. Feed every 3 1/2 hours, 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 6 months of age. I also recommend not introducing spicy or complex foods until a child is 7-8 years old. It is not 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 herbalism and 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 has 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 School of Traditional Chinese 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 think can’t afford a reduction in food, what? There are several herbal remedies to help babies digest their food (formula or breast milk), relieve symptoms that cause discomfort. Even babies who are thriving can benefit greatly from these. In the past few years of talking to parents about it, I’ve heard many stories about how these remedies worked and essentially saved them months of agony. Two remedies I would recommend are Ibaba and Gripe Water. You can find many versions of these at health food stores or online.
Tips for Moms: It will get better, I promise, but it may take a while. 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 this. You are not so alone here and there is a lot of help. Keep your partner involved as much as you can and try to be patient with him/her as he/she may have little knowledge of what you are going through. Take breaks during the day just to be away for a while to regroup. Leave the baby with your partner, grandma or a close friend for a while to get some air, at least 30 minutes a day. This is key to regaining strength, 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 treatable with herbal remedies) can accompany colic, as in my case. When your hormones are rebalancing, your body is adjusting to nursing, things can get complicated. Sleep deprivation from this can lead to severe 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 this. I finally decided I needed to talk to the doctor. I called him and through a massive amount of uncontrollable sobbing I told him how scared I was. My depression had reached intolerable levels, I was worried and afraid I couldn’t cope anymore.
Here’s what he said:
“Clea… Are you getting out of bed?” I said yes”
“Do your daily duties, cook and do laundry?” I said yes”
“Take care of you and the kids?” I said yes”
Then he said, after a long pause…
“I think you’re fine.”
I said, “Really…how do you know? I’m so scared, and this is too hard…”
She went on to explain, “You wouldn’t make that call. Your husband or family member would call me saying, ‘He’s not getting out of bed or doing his daily chores.’ That’s when I start to worry a little.” This helped me understand that I was okay, that colic and postpartum depression were common parenting issues. She also assured me that the baby would get better.
But a colicky baby and a mother with postpartum depression can be overwhelming, especially if you have another child in the house that you’re also trying to care for. Find the help you need, it’s out there. Working with colic and postpartum depression is hard, you are not crazy and you are not alone.
When I share stories with other moms who have survived a colicky baby or the baby blues, we usually get teary-eyed just walking down memory lane. For me, I was ashamed to admit when something was too much to handle. I didn’t want the rest of the world to think I couldn’t do it. Colic and postpartum depression are just life events for parents, when getting help is the best thing you can do for yourself, your baby, and your family.
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