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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. You’ve checked all the obvious things, the diapers, is baby hungry? Too hot? Too cold? Fever? A tooth? Ears? No matter what you do, baby is uncomfortable, and usually spits up a lot after feeding. Then the crying starts. You try baby walking, 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 rise to unbearable levels.
You take a 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 sons colic lasted for 9 months. If your baby is really having a hard time, this seems like a life sentence for the parents. So, what to do? Finding what works for your baby might take some time, but it’s worth the effort. I tried to eliminate foods because I was nursing. Then after breastfeeding 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.
Here’s what I wish I knew then: Babies have underdeveloped stomachs and spleens. This means it can be harder for them to digest food. The school of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has long thought that overfeeding a baby can cause colic, and that breastfed or formula-fed babies should be accommodated. Feed 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 strain on an already compromised digestive system. This is a good reason not to introduce solid foods to a baby before the age of 6 months. I also recommend not introducing spicy or complex foods until a child is between 7-8 years old. By then 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 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 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 to cut back on food, so what? There are several herbal remedies to help babies digest their food (formula or breast milk), relieving the symptoms that cause the discomfort. Even the babies who are thriving can benefit greatly from these. In the past few years discussing this with parents, I have heard many stories of how these remedies worked, and basically saved them from months of agony. Two remedies I would recommend are Ibaba and Gripe Water. You can find many versions of these in health food stores, or online.
Tip for moms: It will get better, I promise, but it might 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 it. You are so not alone here, and there is a lot of help out there. Keep your partner involved as much as possible, and try to be patient with him/her, as they 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 baby with your partner, grandmother or close friend for some time you get some air, at least 30 minutes a day. This is key to regaining your strength to care for a colicky baby. Try talking to a doctor or nurse about this, they can be very helpful.
Postpartum depression (can also be treated with herbal remedies) can accompany colic, as it did in my case. As your hormones rebalance, your body adjusts to nursing, things can get difficult. Sleep deprivation from this can cause severe depression, confusion and frustration. Call your doctor if you feel overwhelmed. I was scared, the depression was so intense, and I cried 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 over, and through a massive amount of uncontrollable sobbing, explained how scared I was. My depression reached intolerable levels, I was worried and afraid that I wouldn’t be able to take it anymore.
This is what he said:
“Clea…Are you getting up?” i said yes”
“Doing your daily functions, cooking and laundry?” i said yes”
“Take care of yourself and the children?” i said yes”
Then he said, after a long pause…
“I think you’re fine.”
I said, “Really…how do you know that? I’m really scared, and this is too hard…”
He continued to explain, “You wouldn’t make this call. Your husband or a family member would call me saying, ‘She doesn’t get up or do her daily chores.’ That’s when I start to get a little worried.” This helped me realize that I was fine, that colic and postpartum depression were common parenting issues. He also reassured me that baby will 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’re also trying to care for. Find the help you need, it’s out there. Working with colic and postpartum depression is hard, you’re not crazy, and you’re not alone.
When I share stories with other moms who have survived a colicky baby or baby blues, we usually cry 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 cope. Colic and postpartum depression are just events in a parent’s life when asking for help is the best thing you can do for yourself, your baby, and your family.
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