All about baby cramps
“My baby struggles with cramps, I’ve tried all the colic drops and pain medication I can find, yet nothing seems to work.”
Does this sound familiar to you?
One of the biggest worries a new parent has, is the cramps that their baby is experiencing. You’ve heard all about it from others and now you’ve seen it with your own eyes. Your baby cries, pull up their legs, their face gets all red, and they may or may not pass a wind or stool right after. This happens multiple times a day and continues for days and even weeks.
Parents give all the colic and over the counter remedy drops they can find, some mothers stop breastfeeding thinking it’s their breastmilk that’s causing the cramps, they change their diets thinking it must be something they’re eating which is now affecting their baby by means of breastmilk, but even after doing some or all of these, the baby seems to still be suffering from cramps.
So, what’s up with baby cramps?
Well simply put, it’s not cramps, and your baby is not in pain. What your baby is experiencing is called infant dyschezia which is a completely normal part of development.
What is infant dyschezia?
Infant dyschezia is a normal part of physical infant development and it’s characterized by the straining and crying of an infant before they either successfully or unsuccessfully pass wind or stools. The baby may strain, cry, pull their legs up to their stomach and turn red while experiencing infant dyschezia. This can usually last up to 10 minutes and it can happen several times a day.
This may be stressful for you as a parent to witness and you may immediately think that your baby is either constipated or that they’re struggling with cramps, but in most cases it’s completely normal and it looks much worse than it actually is. As long as your baby is having frequent, soft stools and the stool is blood free, then it’s probably not constipation. As long as there are no other physical symptoms in your baby such as congestion, projectile vomiting, green, mucous or bloody stools or any other symptoms, it probably isn’t cramps due to things like allergy or illness either.
Infant dyschezia is painless, although it may not look like it.
Why do babies do it and why does it look like they’re in so much pain?
You see, to successfully pass a bowel movement, two things are required to happen at the same time:
The pelvic floor muscles have to relax and there should be an increase in abdominal muscle pressure to help push out the stool. Doing both of these at the same time takes some practice.
The straining and the pulling of their legs towards their stomach and the crying actually helps increase the abdominal muscle pressure and it helps with pushing. The turning red is completely normal too, this is just due to the straining and crying.
So, you see how all of this actually serves a purpose to help baby learn how to pass stool?
Most babies are not born with the ability to do this easily, they don’t have the coordination to do this, they have to practice the skill to perfect it. For some it might take a few weeks and for others it might take a few months, just like walking, every baby will master this coordination at their own time.
Infant dyschezia will usually be a thing of the past by 6 months of age.
It is not recommended to interfere with the learning of this skill by using colic drops, medications, suppositories or stimulating the anus or rectum at all. Doing this can cause a delay in the coordination development and then it can take much longer to develop this skill. So, the best thing to do, is to leave it be, let baby practice. Before you know it, they will have mastered this new skill and they will pass wind and stool without you even knowing about it.
If at any time you do feel that what was described above is not the case for your baby, it would be best to consult your healthcare provider to do further assessments if needed.