HEALTH COLUMN: Acupuncture Treatment for Colic in Babies Part 1

Donegal acupuncturist Kim McMenamin gives his expert opinion


Acupuncture Treatment for Colic in Babies

Colic is a word that strikes fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. But it needn’t be so.

Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a useful approach to preventing and treating colic that parents have sworn by for thousands of years.

Colic in babies is a real worry for new parents leading to frustration and anxiety.

Colic refers to inconsolable, extended crying in a baby who is otherwise healthy and well-fed. Every baby cries, but babies who cry for more than three hours a day, three to four days a week, commonly have colic.

Approximately 20 percent of babies develop colic, and it affects both boys and girls equally, as well as first-born children and those born later. In general, it appears at around two to four weeks of age and can last for three months or longer in some cases.

Colic follows a typical pattern: The infant begins crying in the late afternoon or early evening, continuing to cry for hours no matter what parents do to calm the child.

Often, the only thing that quiets a colicky baby is continual movement, which is why parents usually pace the floor with baby in their arms, or even drive around with the baby in the car seat for hours on end.

As parents who have had colicky babies know, it’s enough to drive you to distraction.

According to Western medicine, the cause of this age-old complaint is unknown, and thus there is no treatment for colic.

The good news is that acupuncture a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has time-tested remedies for colic. As both a parent and a professional practitioner of TCM, I can tell you that in my experience these really work.

The TCM Definition of Colic
Traditional Chinese Medicine labels colic as “night-crying in infants,” and its main cause is indigestion due to overfeeding.

According to TCM theory, the spleen and stomach — the two main organs involved in digestion — are still developing and inefficient in children until around six years of age.

This inefficiency means that any food that is difficult for a child younger than six to digest can cause a medical pattern TCM calls food stagnation (or food damage) — and the younger the child, the more pronounced the condition can be.

Food stagnation refers to improper digestion of the food, which then is retained in the stomach and intestines.

This food stagnation causes a distended belly and a sense of “fullness” that the baby experiences as a stomach ache.

Very commonly, you will see colicky babies pumping their legs towards their abdomens looking like they are kicking out in an effort to expel gas and  “force” the stagnant food substance downward.

This is a normal reaction for the baby to take and does sometimes work and relieve the colic, but not in every case, treatment for this condition should be started as soon as possible rather than wait for the problem becoming a chronic pattern of disharmony.

TCM Guidelines on Feeding
If colic was only caused by the inherent immaturity of a baby’s spleen and stomach, then all babies would have it — and, as we know, not all do. So why then do some babies develop colic, while others do not?

The TCM answer is straightforward: unregulated feeding, which in this context can mean either of two things: The child is simply being overfed, even with breast milk; The child is being fed food that is too complex for his or her digestive system, such as solid foods.

In general, TCM maintains that babies should be fed on a schedule, not on demand. If a baby is put to the breast or given a bottle every time he or she cries, this may and often does cause food stagnation.

After all, a baby may cry for reasons other than hunger — physical discomfort, fatigue, and boredom are common reasons.

Unfortunately, in North America feeding on demand is the current guideline.

Also, TCM teaches that solid foods should normally not be introduced until the child reaches around five to six months of age.

If solids are introduced earlier than that, the baby’s immature digestion may simply not be up to the task.

In part 2 next week we will examine the different types of Colic as well as the treatment remedies.

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