The Colic Breastfeeding Connection

November 15, 2022

The Colic Breastfeeding Connection

November 15, 2022

Having a newborn can come with a plethora of challenges, questions, and concerns; however, throw colic into the mix and it’s a different story. Colic can cause feelings of desperation as moms search for answers on how to best soothe their little one. While there are many potential causes and remedies to colic, this article will briefly overview some of the common culprits.

What Is Colic?

Colic refers to inconsolable crying for 3 or more hours per day, at least 3 days per week, for at least 3 weeks. The rule of 3s are what really distinguish colic from a more normally fussy baby.

Colic usually starts when baby is a few weeks old and tends to dissipate around 4-6 months of age. Other signs and symptoms of colic include

  • intense crying for hours on end
  • clenched fists
  • red or flushed face
  • pulling the knees into the tummy
  • extreme fussiness after crying diminished
  • little to no relief from feeding, changing of diapers, or soothing

However, excessive crying may also be an indication of an illness or a condition that causes discomfort. If your baby is experiencing intense bouts of crying, has a fever, is not gaining weight properly or if you have any general concerns, speak to your healthcare provider and pediatrician.

What Causes Colic?

There is still a clear lack of consensus around what causes colics. While there are many potential factors, one general understanding is that colic may be related to stomach cramps or digestive issues that are uncomfortable for baby. So the real question then is, what is causing these stomach issues?

There are many potential reasons for stomach issues among babies. One potential cause is an imbalance in healthy gut bacteria. Since formula tends to be higher in iron, it has the potential to negatively shift baby’s gut microbiome and cause discomfort. This is why probiotics for babies have become more mainstream. The higher protein content in formula may also contribute to digestive strain.

Overfeeding, underfeeding and infrequent burping may also cause stomach issues for little one. Some babies with colic may also end up having extra gas due to swallowed air during crying, which only furthers their discomfort.

Another potential trigger for baby’s GI discomfort may come from mother’s diet and its influence on breastmilk.

How Does My Diet Impact My Breastmilk?

Generally speaking, breast milk quality is fairly well controlled, however, there are certain food compounds that can pass through breastmilk. The most common compounds that irritate baby from mom’s diet are proteins, specifically cow’s milk proteins.

Cow’s milk has two types of protein, whey and casein. While mama’s milk also has these proteins, they’re in different ratio than what is found in cow’s milk, with human milk having a 40:60 casein to whey ratio and cow’s milk having an 80:20 ratio. As such, when mom drinks a glass of milk or eat some cheese, she may be passing that higher proportion of casein over to baby, potentially causing digestive issues.

This is known as Cow’s Milk Protein Intolerance (CMPI) and has been linked to colic-like symptoms along with constipation, rash, eczema, bloody diarrhea and other signs of a sensitivity.

The good news is that many babies will grow out of their sensitivity. The not so good news is that mom might have to cut out her dairy products.

Outside of cow’s milk protein allergy, the proteins in soy, peanuts, and eggs may also cause sensitivities in babies.

I Heard That Broccoli May Be The Cause of Colic?

Research has debunked this myth. A lot of breastfeeding mama’s fear that their broccoli consumption can cause gas and colic like symptoms in baby. Let’s work through this.

The compounds in broccoli, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables that give you bloating and gas are due to the fiber present. Fiber is a large carbohydrate compound that is too big to pass into breast milk. Therefore, even if you get gassy after eating coleslaw, your baby won’t be getting those effects from your breastmilk.

Protein, on the other hand, is small enough to pass through breastmilk, which is why it tends to be the primary culprit of breast-milk induced GI symptoms in baby.

Should I Change My Diet If My Baby Has Colic?

This really depends. I’ll start by saying that generally speaking breastfeeding moms do not need to avoid or consume certain foods; however, if you suspect a cow’s milk allergy to be a cause of your baby’s fussiness, you may consider an elimination diet. Since cow’s milk and dairy are such big contributors of dairy, iodine and other vitamins and minerals, I recommend working with a dietitian to figure out how to best replace those foods before eliminating them.

If you do decide to eliminate dairy, try to stick to it for at least 21 days, as this is the amount of time it takes for it to clear your system and to notice real changes in baby.

Keeping a food log can also be helpful to see which foods may cause sensitivities in your baby. Keep in mind that it make take up to 4 days for a symptom of intolerance to show up, however, these food logs can help us to connect the picture.

A Final Note:

It is understandable that you may be worried, anxious or defeated if your baby is experiencing colic and/or reacting negatively to something in breastmilk. Talk to your partner, doctor, pediatrician and dietitian for support and education on how to move forward. You may also want to consider joining a support group, such as those offered by La Leche League.

While breastfeeding can be exhausting and challenging, it is still the best thing you can do for your baby. Take solace in knowing that you are doing the very best that you can.

Written By: Amanda Wahlstedt, RDN, CLC

Fertility + Hormones




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