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Working With Colic and Postpartum Depression

Colic is unbearable 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, the diaper, is the baby hungry? Too hot? Too cold? Fire? 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 the baby, sometimes it helps, but not for long. Finally, tired from crying, your baby falls asleep in your arms. All the while 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 3-4 months. Sound familiar? Well, actually 3-4 months 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 having a really hard time, this can seem like a life sentence for parents. So, what to do? Finding what works for your baby may take a little time, but it’s worth the effort. I tried to avoid foods because I was nursing. Then after three months of nursing, I switched to formula. Tried different formulas, different meal plans, different bottles to reduce gas, nothing worked. Here’s the good news: There are many well-tested, old traditional remedies that really work and are safe for babies.

What I wanted to know then is this: Babies have underdeveloped stomachs and intestines. This means that it becomes more difficult for them to prepare food. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has long thought that overfeeding a baby can cause colic, and that nursing or formula should be put on a schedule. It is fed every 3 1/2 hours, while at each meal the amount of food is gradually reduced by 1/3. This makes sense to me, as it will put less stress on an already damaged digestive system. This is a good reason not to give the baby solid food before 6 months. I also recommend not introducing spicy or complex foods until the child is between 7-8 years old. By then their digestive system is fully developed.

There are TCM practitioners who specialize in Pediatric Chinese Medicine, and have a lot to offer in the areas of colic and postpartum depression. These doctors formally trained in herbology can treat your baby with safe effective herbal remedies for a specific case of colic. I would personally recommend picking up a copy of Bob Flaws’ book, “Keeping Your Child Healthy with Chinese Medicine: A Parent’s Guide to the Care and Prevention of Common Childhood Illnesses.” He has done a lot of work in this field for more than 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 who you feel is unable to feed less? There are many herbal remedies to help babies digest their food (formula or breast milk), which relieve symptoms that cause discomfort. Even babies who are developing can benefit greatly from these. In recent years when I have discussed this with parents, I have heard many stories about how these drugs work, and basically saved them from months of pain. The two remedies I would recommend are Ibaba and Gripe Water. You can find many variations of these at health food stores, or online.

Advice for moms: It will get better, I promise, but it might take a little 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 not alone here, and there is plenty of help out there. Involve your partner as much as you can, and try to be patient with him/her, as they may not know much about what you are going through. Take breaks during the day just to get away for a little while to regroup. Leave the baby with your partner, grandmother, or close friend for at least 30 minutes a day while you are getting fresh air. This is the key to regaining your strength to care for a colicky baby. Try talking to your doctor or nurse about it, they can be very supportive.

Postpartum depression (also treatable with herbal remedies) can be accompanied by colic, as it was in my case. When your hormones are rebalancing, your body is dependent on nursing, things can get difficult. Lack of sleep can lead to depression, confusion and hopelessness. Call your doctor if you feel irritated. I was scared, the depression was so bad, and I cried all the time. No one seemed to be able to help me with it. I finally decided I needed to talk to a doctor. I called him, and in a loud uncontrollable sob, explained how scared I was. My depression had reached unbearable levels, I was worried and afraid that I could not cope anymore.

This is what he said:

“Clea…Are you getting out of bed?” I said, “Yes”

“Do their daily functions, cooking and laundry?” I said, “Yes”

“Do you 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? I’m really scared, and it’s so hard…”

Then he continued: “You wouldn’t make this call. Your husband or a member of your family would tell me ‘he doesn’t get out of bed and doesn’t do his daily chores.’ That’s when I start to worry.” This helped me realize that I was fine, that colic and postpartum depression were common parenting issues. He also reassured me that the baby would get better.

But a baby with colic and a mother with postpartum depression can be overwhelming, especially if you have another baby at home that you’re also trying to care for. Find the help you need, it’s there. Dealing 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 baby with colic or colic, we often tear up as we walk down memory lane. For me, I was ashamed to admit when something was too difficult. I didn’t want the rest of the world to think I couldn’t handle it. Colic and postpartum depression are the only events in a parent’s life, so getting help is the best thing you can do for yourself, your baby, and your family.

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