By day, my 6-week-old baby is the sweetest little poop monster on the planet, but come the witching hour, she begins to cry and gasp. Natalie tunes up every evening around 8 when her muscles tense. Her cheeks redden. And her agonizing screams fill the house.
Thus begins our routine of soothing. We stand up, walk around, go outside, come back in, sit, rock, hum, and sing. I try gas drops, the baby swing, but she still draws up her legs and wails like an alarm clock that won’t shut off. I feel so helpless. My baby has colic.
Mayo Clinic defines colic as inconsolable crying more than three hours a day, three days a week, for more than three weeks in an otherwise healthy, well-fed baby. It affects 25 percent of infants, beginning a few weeks after birth and usually subsiding at 3 months of age. Doctors don’t know what causes it. Some speculate colic is the result of still developing digestive organs or lactose intolerance. Worse, there are no proven cures.
Parents with past experience suggested everything from gripe water (an over-the-counter product of sugar water infused with ginger and fennel) to swaddling. But nothing worked for long. When I asked my pediatrician about switching from breast milk to formula, she said it probably wouldn’t make a difference. After a month of sleepless nights, a friend recommended I try infant massage.
Hallie Best, CEIM (Certified Educator in Infant Massage) at Arlington Family Chiropractic teaches parents how to massage their babies. For a one-time fee of $60, she gives individual instruction in four, 30-minute weekly sessions. She has seen results in soothing babies with colic.
“More than that,” Best says, “it’s bonding time to focus on touch instead of meeting immediate needs like feeding, bathing, and diaper change.”
Infant massage helps to relax muscles, expel gas, and release oxytocin into the body. Oxytocin, called the calming hormone, is most present during childbirth and breastfeeding, but massage also produces this hormone, in both baby and the adult doing the massage. The hormone promotes tension relief and bonding.
Massage can also be a way of communicating with your baby, learning the strokes your baby likes by watching her response. “The best time for a massage is about half an hour after feeding, when baby is awake and alert but not hungry,” she says.
Learning the steps
Best welcomes Natalie and me into a dimly lit room where a lullaby plays softly in the background. I undress my baby to her diaper and warm creamy oil onto my hands, the sign to show her it is massage time. Instead of touching Natalie, Best uses a doll to demonstrate the strokes good for soothing colic tension.
“Paddle Wheel” starts by placing one hand across her abdomen just below the sternum and rubbing down, followed by the other hand, like the paddle wheel on a riverboat. “Finger Walking” is just like it sounds, akin to typing on her tummy, from left to right.
“You always want to go from left to right or in a clockwise motion to follow the flow of peristalsis.” Peristalsis is the wave of contractions in the esophagus and intestines that pushes down food. “You don’t have to use a lot of pressure.” Best compares the depth of infant massage to the strength it takes to dent the skin of a tomato.
After two sessions, I learn to massage Natalie from the chest down. It’s amazing to watch her toes sprawl out when I press her heels, but curl around my finger when I press the balls of her feet. She grips like a little monkey. She relaxes to show me what she likes, or fusses when I try strokes she doesn’t enjoy. We communicate.
Does it work?
Jennifer Badgett took the infant massage class when her daughter Brynlee was a baby. “Now she’s 2. She’ll tell me when her tummy hurts and go get the massage oil for me,” says Badgett.
The first night after Natalie’s massage, my daughter did not fuss or scream. She even slept for eight hours straight, the longest stretch of her life. We practice every day and still have two more sessions to go. But she hasn’t had a crying episode in over a week. While I cannot prove that massage is the cure or if it was just her time to grow out of the colic period, I am thankful to have my sweet baby back.
• To learn more, contact Hallie Best at Arlington Family Chiropractic, 867-3995.