Colic and the Breastfed Baby

August 31, 2010

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Here’s another great question from a reader:

What is the best suggestion you have for a colic baby that is breastfed?

colic and the breastfed baby
Creative Commons License photo credit: iskir

Colic usually refers to babies who cry for long periods of time, especially in the evenings, typically starting a few weeks after birth. Some experts say that colic doesn’t exist, and there is a legitimate reason for the crying, that it will resolve when the issue is addressed. Others insist on using colic as a catch-all diagnosis. Either way, a mom would be highly motivated to try to help her baby.

Colicky babies are nearly inconsolable during their crying spells. Although breastfed babies tend to experience colic less than their formula-fed counterparts, it is still very much possible for a breastfed baby to have colic. Even though opinions differ as to what causes colic, there are some things that may be contributing to a breastfed baby’s crying and pain that parents may want to know of.

Colic and The Breastfed Baby

One reason for a breastfed baby’s crying may be that they are not getting the adequate amount of fat during a feeding. Breastfeeding mothers are often taught to breastfeed on each breast during each feeding session. This is done to relieve engorgement of the breasts and stimulate mom’s milk supply. However, what this can also do is prevent the baby from receiving enough of the healthy fats in the breast milk.

During letdown in the beginning of a feeding, the baby receives foremilk, which is a lower-fat consistency of milk (kind of like skim milk). The foremilk quenches the baby’s thirst and immediate hunger.

But as the feeding goes on, fat globules begin to make their way down the ducts toward the nipple. The baby then receives hind milk, which has a higher fat content and can keep the baby feeling fuller longer (like cream). If the mother feeds on one breast at a time during feedings, she is ensuring their baby receives hind milk, which can help reduce colic.

For a newborn or young baby, switching breasts during feedings can be especially problematic because their appetite is smaller. The hind milk tends to come after mom’s milk has letdown more than once.

How can you tell if this might be a problem? Baby has green poops. Green poops can indicate that baby is getting too much foremilk and not enough hind milk.

This was an issue with my oldest child. Since I had never nursed a baby before and was insecure about him getting enough, I switched sides too often. This led to him becoming fussy and having green poops. When I learned to keep him on ONE side for an entire feeding, sometimes even two feedings, the problem went away.

If this is uncomfortable for mom since the other breast remains full, the mother can pump the other side or hand express a small amount to relieve engorgement before the next feeding.

Some mothers may also have a rapid letdown, which can release a lot of milk into the baby’s mouth at once, causing them to cough and spit, struggling to keep up and swallowing a lot of air in the process. Mothers with an overactive letdown can pump out a small amount of milk before putting their baby on the breast, to reduce the rapid amount of milk going into the mouth when the baby first latches on. Nursing while lying down can help, as can sitting baby up (as in a football hold) for feeds. Burping can also help some babies.

Although nursing mothers are not prohibited from eating certain foods in their diet, some mothers may notice that some foods can cause their baby to become gassy. Colic will usually pass on its own but if there is a family history of dairy allergy she could try cutting out dairy. Eating fiber and vegetables like beans, onions or spices do NOT cause colic or gas. This is actually impossible, since it’s undigested carbohydrates that causes gas pain in the Mom, and these cannot pass into breastmilk.

Wearing a baby sling can help comfort a crying baby.

Babies who are “worn” cry less according to research.

It’s important to remember that unlike formula-fed babies who are often fed on a schedule, breastfed babies often have their own schedule. Nursing on demand can help reduce colic, because they will be fed when hungry and not force fed when not hungry.

Iron supplements (like those in prenatal vitamins) can bother some babies. When my second child, who was very calm by nature starting crying, I called my Naturopath who advised that I stop taking my prenatals for this reason. When I did, the crying stopped.

Did your breastfed baby experience colic? How did you help him or her feel better?


Crying baby, stressed mom

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6 Responses to “Colic and the Breastfed Baby”

  1. Dusti on September 2nd, 2010 12:59 pm

    My baby girl had colic…fully breastfed. I found out sort of by chance that it was refined sugar causing the colic. I took myself off of regular white sugar, brown sugar and high fructose corn syrup which was not easy to say the least, but definitely better than a screaming, inconsolable baby. I also started eating plain yogurt at least twice a day when I sat down to feed her…the taste grew on me. She is a completely different baby without the sugar in the breast milk!

  2. carrie on September 2nd, 2010 1:00 pm

    @Dusti – wow interesting, do you think she had issues with candida/thrush that were causing symptoms? Thanks for sharing that.

  3. Dusti on September 2nd, 2010 1:10 pm

    Definitely! She didn’t ever have thrush, but cradle cap, colic and diaper rash all went away or lessened when I gave up sugar.

  4. Nichi on September 2nd, 2010 1:15 pm

    We experienced colic with our second daughter and realized after about ten weeks of bouncing on the therapy ball and mini nursing sessions for this fully breastfed baby, chiropractic adjustments, and eliminating gluten and dairy to no avail, that she had a hiatal hernia. This was diagnosed via another chiropractor over the phone and when I brought her to a pediatric chiropractor, was completely gone in two adjustments. TWO ADJUSTMENTS! People seek surgery for this stuff and two minor chiropractic adjustments totalling $90 took care of it completely and there in front of me was this beautiful, calm, happy baby who began to nurse for extended periods of time in total and complete comfort and we’ve never looked back!

  5. carrie on September 2nd, 2010 1:54 pm

    @Nichi – that’s awesome, thanks for your comment :)

    @Dusti – I’ve always suspected that “cradle crap” was caused by yeast overgrowth. Which is why coconut oil is effective for it. Cool!

  6. Esper on September 2nd, 2010 6:03 pm

    You can always try infant massage, the “I Love You” hand positions for gas.

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