Many of the Mums / families I have seen and worked with over the years have been convinced that the reason (or one of the reasons) for their baby’s unsettledness is due to wind, reflux or colic. They have their babies on medication to treat any (or sometimes all) of these conditions. However, once I have spent time with them and addressed the sleep / settling issues, what they thought were symptoms of reflux, colic or wind were suddenly no longer there. This is because their baby never had these conditions in the first place. The reason behind the symptoms of the crying and unsettledness was because their baby was overtired to the point of exhaustion – day in, day out – due to not getting anywhere near enough sleep in a 24 hour period.
I am not saying that reflux, colic or wind do not exist – they certainly do exist – but these conditions in their true form exist in a much, MUCH smaller percentage of babies than what we are led to believe. Many health professionals will tell you , or suggest to you, that your baby has one of these conditions – because there is seemingly no other explanation for a crying, unsettled baby and day after day they have exasperated and exhausted Mums coming in saying “what is wrong with my baby?. So, when unable to find any other cause – it inevitably reverts to “your baby has wind / colic / reflux”. It becomes a fall-back reason to explain an unsettled baby to Mums who are desperately looking for answers. So then, as a result of what they have been told whether by a health professional, local childhood clinic, well-meaning friend or relative or some other source – parents then go down the well-trodden path of trying different medications or therapies for the colic / reflux / wind. And this can go on for months.
In these situations, the symptoms that parents observe leading them to think their baby has wind / reflux / colic are the same as the symptoms displayed by a baby who is overtired and overstimulated from lack of sleep. Some of these symptoms include persistent round-the-clock crying, unable to fall asleep easily, sleeping only for short sleep cycles, repeatedly drawing their legs up to their chest whilst crying, difficulty breast feeding or bottle feeding, jerky rigid arm and leg movements and being constantly unsettled and irritable.
Babies who are sleep deprived do not cope well, just as we don’t cope well when we are sleep deprived. When babies become overtired, they become overstimulated and are on a hair trigger, their little bodies become tense and rigid as they are unable to relax or calm easily. For many babies, this becomes a cycle in which they are caught each day effectively meaning they are starting each day tired and finishing each day even more tired and sleep deprived.
Whenever I see a new client who is convinced their baby has wind / reflux / colic or who thinks they just have a grumpy baby who don’t sleep, I always ask them to put that thought aside for the moment, until we address the sleep issues. Once the baby is sleeping well and are so much calmer and happier, it becomes clear to the parents that in fact their baby never had wind / reflux / colic in the first place.
All babies exhibit tired signs when they are tired. Learning to recognise your baby’s tired signs is so VERY important. And equally as important – is responding to the tired signs.
Typical tired signs for babies are as follows. Your baby may do some or all of these:
- cry and /or grizzle
- lose eye contact
- become very irritable
- rub eyes
- stare vacantly off to one direction for long periods (zoning out)
- jerky arm and leg movements
- clenched fists
- sudden switch in mood from being happy and engaged to very unhappy and “over it”
Once you know what to look for, it will become second nature to you. Keep an eye out for their tired signs which is your cue to respond as quickly as possible by putting them down to sleep. If you don’t respond to the tired signs, your baby will get overtired and over-stimulated very quickly – making falling asleep for them extremely difficult and then this becomes an established daily cycle.
I also wanted to make mention of teething. Whilst some babies will experience some level of discomfort when teeth are coming through, and may have the odd unsettled night – it is rarely the reason behind a baby being unsettled around the clock and not sleeping day or night. Again, in so many cases it comes back to the reason being lack of sleep. I fully agree with the wonderful Robin Barker (author of “Baby Love”, the book commonly referred to here in Australia as the baby bible for parents), when she says that “it is time that health professionals and writers of baby information stop perpetuating teething myths”. She goes on to say that “teething causes…..teeth”.
So when going down the path of medicating your baby for wind, reflux or colic – do please stop and consider if perhaps the real issue behind your baby’s crying and unsettledness is that your baby is overtired day in, day out and not getting enough sleep.
I will finish by saying always seek medical advice if you are ever concerned about unusual, prolonged or unexplained crying or distress in your baby. This article is not intended to ever override that basic rule of thumb advice for all parents.