what to do for cramps in a baby?

as a new parent, every cry, cramp, grunt, groan and moan is a potential source of concern. much of this is simply part of the process of growth and development. but cramps in a baby (or straining and pushing) can be severe and last for many hours. if not treated correctly, the baby will often develop colic. what can you do to help other than experiment with various colic remedies?


baby cramps are almost always due to gas or winds trapped somewhere in the digestive tract - either in the stomach or intestinal tract. it could have been swallowed or be the natural by-product of digestion. if the gas or wind is trapped in the stomach, cramping is relieved by good burping technique. if it's trapped in the lower digestive tract (intestines and colon) then it needs to come out the bottom end and can be eased by specific massage or release techniques.


stomach gas causing cramps:

  • cramping usually most notable in hour after feed or during feeding

  • not burping well

  • if refluxing, milk is runny

  • better when they burp


intestinal gas causing cramps: 

  • bloated or hard abdominal area

  • excessive straining and pushing

  • if refluxing - milk is cottage cheesy

  • better after bowel movement


phases of colic


typically we see these symptoms progressing over time and the treatment will depend on the type of colic:


phase 1

symptoms aren't yet severe and include:

  • soaning and groaning

  • fussy feeding

  • perhaps little crying spells

phase 2

the weeks go by and symptoms worsen, despite best efforts:

  • cramping is worse

  • crying can last over an hour

  • everyone's sleep is broken

  • reflux (vomiting) often starts in this phase

phase 3

in the final phase, symptoms of pain and discomfort are overwhelming:

  • crying continues for hours on end - up to 5 hours a day - even when sleeping

  • baby is in intense pain, exhausted and probably not eating well

  • mom and dad are frazzled, emotionally spent and feel powerless to to ease the suffering their little one is going through



baby reflux can be several things, all of which involve throwing up milk frequently. if the milk that comes up is still fairly milky and clear, and there's no real discomfort (crying), then it's likely that they simply drank too much or a burp should have come up but didn't and is now preventing the milk from settling.


if the milk that comes up is thick and partially digested (a bit like cottage cheese) it suggests that the blockage is a little lower down in the digestive tract. for this, you need to stimulate and release the intestinal area (see demo). in the case of formula fed babies, it may also mean that their digestive system is having difficulty processing this particular brand in which case you may need to change formula.


why is resolving reflux so important? 


if your baby suffers from reflux for a prolonged period, there's a greater likelihood of acid burning the mucosal layers of the stomach and intestines. this can result in lifelong problems of indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome and the like. more commonly, the baby is likely to have a greater chance of chest, ear and sinus infections.


if you have learned our burping techniques and gas 'release techniques' and are still not able to resolve reflux, you need to investigate medically for food sensitivities and hereditary issues. although much less common, there may be a problem with the valve between the stomach and the oesophagus (GERD).


what went wrong?


the biggest problem of all is gas and wind trapped in the immature digestive tract.

this occurs several ways:


  • poor burping technique

  • immature digestive tract - 'kinks' in the pipes and gas can't pass through easily

  • milk not digesting well causing excessive digestive gases

  • baby still learning how to 'push' gas out but not quite getting it right



there are many ways to sooth your baby's symptoms and equally as many remedies and medications to try. but to truly treat colic, there are 2 simple objectives:

  • you MUST learn burping techniques that get the difficult, deeper burps out

  • you MUST help to untrap intestinal gas.



these two goals are easily achievable for any parent and have the biggest impact of all. the sooner you can start to do the right things, the easier it is to break the cycle. it's nonsense that you simply have to ‘ride it out’ and wait until they are 4 or 6 months old. what a nightmare journey that would be!