Johanna at about 1 month old, during the worst of her colic and baby acne
Colic and fussiness in young babies just isn't fun for anyone. Not for the baby. Certainly not for the parents. It can be downright exhausting, and it's difficult to see your baby in such pain and discomfort and to feel that you can't do anything about it.
There are a lot of products out on the market for colic in babies. Unfortunately, most of them use substances that only treat the symptoms, such as sodium bicarbonate which is used in antacid relief (like Tums or Rolaids), or gas suppressing medications such as Simethicone which are used in over-the-counter remedies like Ovol (basically a child's version of Maalox or Mylanta), not to mention the alcohol that is so often used in commercial infant Gripe Water.
Personally, I chose to go with herbal remedies that I felt would
support and improve my baby girl's digestion, which was where her fussiness
seemed to be originating. She was also dealing with a lot of baby acne,
which I noticed was very related to her digestion. When she had a less
fussy day and less stomach pain, the acne decreased, and on her worst
days, the acne flared up badly.
By using herbs that promote
better digestion we have seen a remarkable difference in our sweet
girl. In the course of a week of me taking a herbal tea that I put
together we saw her colic decrease immensely, to the point where she
would happily sit in an infant seat for up to 20 minutes at a time
(whereas before she constantly needed to be held, bounced, patted,
rocked, etc.). We've also seen her acne completely clear up. The change has really been amazing!
How Should Herbs Be Used With Babies?
I am still bit torn on whether to try giving something to baby directly, such as small amounts of diluted herbal tea. My basic concern is that a newborn or young baby's digestive system is just so incredibly sensitive and immature (hence the reason that they are fussy and colicky to begin with!), and the risk of introducing something to them that their systems cannot handle or may react to is very real.
In my experience with Johanna, I did try giving her some very small amounts of weak tea. I tried both a yarrow tea and a fennel tea. With the yarrow, I didn't specifically notice any difference, though I might not have tried it for long enough to really see it. With the fennel, I definitely did notice a difference. It was the first breakthrough we had in bringing some level of calm to our distraught baby.
However, I continued to feel a little bit unsettled about giving it to her, even though I know that many practitioners (such as midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, even doctors) would consider it safe. I'm not convinced that it isn't either, and I will be the first to admit that it can be very effective.
After my experience these past couple of weeks, however, my personal preference is taking stronger herbal teas myself. This way the soothing and digestion-easing properties of the herbs can be present in my milk, but have gone through the filter of my body first, rather than going into hers directly. I have found this to be equally as effective in helping my little girl, if not more effective, than giving her the herbal teas orally.
That said, if you would like to try giving them to your baby as a weak tea, here are some guidelines:
Simple vs. Combination
In my recent studies, I've learned that herbs are used both as "simples", meaning on their own, and also in combination with other herbs (and most herbs can be used in either way). When giving herbs to any infant or young child, it is always best to introduce each herb first as a simple, before giving it in combination. As with new foods, it is always possible (though not highly likely) that a baby could react to what they are being given, and if this happens you would want to know exactly what they reacted to in order to avoid giving it to them again. Once you know that baby does not react to several simple herbs, it would be fine to try them in combination.
It is important to remember how much smaller an infant's body is than ours. At 7 weeks old, my 10 lb baby is a mere 1/13 of my body weight, and as a 7 lb newborn she was even that much smaller. Anything you give an infant needs to be in a much weaker, diluted form than what you would take yourself. In The Complete Medicinal Herbal
by Penelope Ody, she recommends giving any child under 1 year a dose that is one twentieth (1/20) of what would be a full adult dose. With something like fennel tea, if I were to make myself a tea I would probably use 1 Tbsp of fennel seas to 8 oz. of hot water. To make it for an infant (for example only- not all herbs use the same dose), I might use only 1 tsp. per 8 oz. to make a weaker brew, and then only give a 1/2 an ounce to 1 ounce at a time.
When the nursing mom is taking the herb instead, she simply needs to stick to what would be a reasonable amount of any herb (ensuring that the herb is safe for baby, of course). With the tea that I am currently drinking for post-partum health, I consume about 3-4 cups of full strength tea (1 Tbsp to 8 oz. water) throughout the course of the day. Usually 1-2 cups before noon, and another 2 cups in the evening. With this amount, we have seen nothing but excellent results in Johanna (and myself) and not a speck of a negative reaction.
Do Your Research
As I am only beginning my personal study in herbology, I would not dare tell you exactly which herbs you ought to take and in which dosage. I am learning from many different sources and am continually looking for new information and using things cautiously as I proceed.
One excellent resource that I have just come across in my studies is on kellymom.com (a fantastic resource for breastfeeding moms in general). Here you will find an alphabetized list of herbs and remedies, and whether they are safe for the nursing mother, as well as some dosage suggestions and possible uses. I would suggest that in your own research it is best to be more on the cautious side than to quickly accept ideas and suggestions from any old source. It's always better to be safe than sorry.
Our sweet girl with her skin cleared up, and feeling so much happier!
Specific Herbs That are Helpful for the Fussy Baby
- Fennel seed
- Dill seed
- Anise or Aniseed (not to be confused with Star Anise, which should not be given to babies)
As well, for more information on herbs that may be harmful for baby or for nursing mothers, here is more info on the topic from kellymom.
As with most natural remedies, what works for one person doesn't always work for someone else, and vice versa. Sometimes it's necessary to try a few different things before you find what works for you. Though they can be very effective in some situations, herbs may not always solve a baby's fussiness or digestive struggles. Many babies simply need more time to grow and mature and their issues will work themselves out with time. So hang in there, mama! You are doing an incredible job nurturing and caring for your little one and remember that this too shall pass! :)
Have you successfully used herbs to help a fussy or colicky baby? Tell us about your experience, or any other tips you have for helping a fussy baby!