A TCM Practitioner’s Advice for Colic

I recently heard a statistic on the radio from a study looking at rates of colic in countries across the world. Did you know that Canada has one of the highest of those rates? One out of every three Canadian babies suffers from colic at some point within their first few days to weeks after birth and it can last – seemingly relentlessly – for months.

Colic is a result of indigestion and gas pains in babies. The most common manifestations of colic a parent can look for is crying, especially in the late afternoon and evening, pumping of the legs towards the belly, and your baby will likely want to be carried, held, and rocked/kept in motion.

Colic affects not only the baby but everyone else who lives with them. It can be very upsetting for parents to see their baby in distress without being able to help. It also has a rather negative impact on the sleep of other people, like older children, in the household. As we have all experienced, lack of sleep only makes stressful situations even more intolerable. Since one of the characteristics of colic is restlessness and not wanting to be put down, this almost guarantees that at least one parent is suffering from lack of sleep.

What if I told you that colic can be prevented and if your baby is already suffering from it, it can be easily resolved? You don’t have to wait for them to grow out of it!

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are three main ways advised for preventing colic.

1. The most important thing is not to overfeed your baby. Babies are inherently born with weak digestive systems. That’s why they start on a liquid diet and not steak dinner. Due to this weakness, the digestive tract is prone to stagnation if it is given too much to deal with. Overfeeding ends up blocking digestion and leads to the accumulation of food within the stomach and intestines. This produces distention from gas – generated by the stagnant food products – and results in pain. It is common to hear that parents try to cure colic symptoms by encouraging a bottle, in hopes that it will calm the screaming. Unfortunately, this will only make it worse. Since the problem is stagnant food in the baby’s digestive tract, adding more food is only going to make it worse in the long run. This is why feeding on schedule (at a fixed time and amount), instead of on demand, is so important. A baby’s digestive system is weak so it can’t handle too much too often. Give it time to do its thing and process the food that it has been given before introducing more to deal with.

2. Rub your baby’s belly every day. Start on the baby’s lower right and gently rub up their belly to the top right, then make your way across the belly towards the top left, and complete the circle by going down the left side. By following the flow of the large intestine you will have helped stimulate it to move things along. This should be done every day as a preventative measure for colic. If there is already colic present then this rubbing massage can be further modified to treat the specific type of colic that is presenting.

3. If the mother is breastfeeding she needs to be mindful of what she eats. Avoid gas-producing foods and foods that are known to flare up colic. The foods to avoid include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, onion family (including garlic), beans, rhubarb, peaches, melons, chocolate, and coffee.

If your baby is already suffering from colic, do not despair. Begin by incorporating the above three tips and then have a trained practitioner help refine a treatment plan based on your baby’s presenting needs. Below is a basic guideline for the different types of colic possible and their treatment with TCM.

A. Hot Colic The typical symptoms you can expect to see in this pattern are crying that makes the face turn red, hands and feet are warm to the touch, loud crying/screaming, bloated belly, irritable and fussy, and pumping of the legs towards the belly. The main issue here is stagnant food remaining in the intestines so the goal in treatment is to aid digestion by promoting a bowel movement.

Rubbing massage: while rubbing along the path of the intestine, going clockwise starting from the lower right of the belly upward, make smaller circles as you go along the path.

TCM Formula: Bao He Wan

TCM Acupuncture: a quick prick with a pediatric grade needle on a point named Si Feng is very effective for resolving food stagnation and promoting a complete bowel movement. It is not uncommon for one treatment to completely resolve a flare-up of colic.

B. Cold Colic The typical symptoms for this pattern is a pale face, a horizontal blue vein at the bridge of the nose (between the eyes), cold hands and feet, lack of energy, a weak forceless cry, possible vomiting of milk right after feeding, and possible loose stools. In this case, the pancreas is still weak and is not producing sufficient digestive enzymes yet to help break down food in a timely manner. It is a combination of a digestive system that is running cold plus food stagnation.

Rubbing massage: in this case, you want to gently rub small circles in a counterclockwise direction along the large circle. Start at the bottom left corner of the belly and rub small circles upward toward the top left, then across the belly to the top right, then down to the lower right to complete the circle.

TCM Formulas: Xiao Jian Zhong Tang + Li Zhong Tang; modified Jian Pi Wan

TCM Acupuncture: in addition to using Si Feng (see above), in treating cold colic we also need to strengthen the digestive tract in addition to resolving accumulation. Moxa can be applied to the point Shen Que Ren8 (located at the belly button). Moxa is the application of infrared heat to an acupuncture point to tonify and warm, thus stimulating metabolism.

In my clinic I use the Premio Moxa 10 tool. It is a smokeless, odourless, and more controlled device that exactly replicates the infrared frequency that comes off of traditional moxa.

I hope you find this blog post helps to ease your little one’s pain! Connect with me via my contact page to set up an appointment or if you have any further questions. I look forward to hearing from you!