Coping with Colic

UF Health therapists are finding relief for babies and parents alike


A newborn baby cries as he lays in his father’s hands.

Coping with Colic

UF Health therapists are finding relief for babies and parents alike

By Steph Strickland

Feed the baby. Check. Burp the baby.

Done. Change the baby’s diaper. Check.

Parents of babies who have colic, typically evidenced by discomfort in the abdomen caused by gas or constipation, run through an endless checklist of remedies until they are exhausted. Treatments include swaddling the baby in a blanket, rubbing the baby’s back and soaking the infant in a warm bath.

Now, a UF Health physical therapist and a UF Health occupational therapist are combining their skills and training to find new ways to comfort the troubled infants.

“Sometimes, it’s just nice for the patients to have someone to give them hope and show them that there is something that can be done to make things better,” said Vicki Lukert, P.T., PRPC. “It’s hard enough being a new mom, let alone when your child cries constantly and you aren’t sure how to help them.”

The causes of colic are largely unknown, but it is typically found in infants who may be acquiring certain sensitivities as their gastrointestinal tracts develop.

Kim Fuller, OTR/L, said many of the infants who are brought to the UF Health Rehab Center — Magnolia Parke have difficulty feeding and latching, improper posture and poor motor skills that are needed to reduce the amount of air taken in during breastfeeding.

Fuller works primarily on fine motor skills related to breastfeeding. Weak muscles in the face or mouth are important to strengthen to avoid clicking, smacking or gulping during breastfeeding. Lukert works alongside Fuller, focusing on gross motor skills with specializations in myofascial release, visceral mobilization and craniosacral therapy.

Together, these forms of therapy work to loosen tightness in
the infant’s muscles and release discomfort.

“We often work hand-in-hand to solve the problems the child may be having,” Fuller said. “We focus on what is going on with the baby and give parents strategies to help their children.”

The treatments of colic can range from a change in diet to soothing home remedies; however, Lukert said these treatments should be coupled with effective therapy for the child in order to avoid long-term effects.

A common guide when it comes to deciding whether your child may have colic is to look at the rule of three’s. If a child cries for more than three hours a day, three days a week for more than three weeks, then that child is considered colicky.

About 25% of infants meet this description; however, some may experience colic in milder forms.

Lukert added that parents should be on the lookout for squirming, high-pitched crying, difficulty sleeping and bloating or tightness in the stomach.

The UF Health Rehab Center accepts new patients through referral programs. Lukert said if parents are concerned their child may have colic, they can ask their pediatrician for a referral to see a specialist.

Lukert and Fuller agreed that they would like to see more therapists practicing in this field, and they hope to someday have the opportunity to share more about their work and specializations with physicians.

“We need more doctors to be aware of this, and we would love to educate physicians and the public about the services we offer,” Lukert said. “Seeing the changes it [physical therapy] makes in a child has — for me — renewed a level of excitement in my practice.”

Fuller agrees there is a lot of work to be done in this field, adding that, for her, the rewards of successful therapy are also deeply personal.

“I truly get so much out of seeing them (children) get into a better space,” she said. “It means so much to me to help these little people get stronger.”

Lukert, too, is excited about the progress she and Fuller are making easing the pain for the children as well as the stress for the parents.

“It is a really beautiful thing to hear moms say that their baby woke up happy today,” she said.