Colic in a Breastfed Baby

  • By: The DIG for Kids
  • Time to read: 4 min.
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Colic describes a condition where an otherwise healthy baby cries uncontrollably. The painful wind spasms and digestive upsets can send a baby into a crying fit that can last a whole evening or longer. The cause is not always found, although when it happens in a breastfed baby it could indicate an allergy. There can be several physical reasons for colic in a breastfed baby:

  • Changing breasts during a feeding session. Not many mothers realise that the amount of fat in the milk contained in one breast increases as the baby feeds for longer. Therefore, a baby that empties one breast will get a larger amount of calories and require feeding less. The babies who take half the amount from both breasts are actually getting fewer calories, therefore requiring more feeds and taking in too much milk and concentrations of milk sugar throughout the day. This can cause wind, vomiting and messy nappies.
  • An overactive letdown reflex. The breasts may just release milk too quickly for the baby to cope. Sometimes a very hungry baby can stimulate an over-active letdown reflex by sucking too hard. Lying down to feed can sometimes slow down the flow, or using a nipple shield can stop the baby from compressing the nipple too much and increasing flow. If all else fails, then consider expressing breast milk and feeding it by bottle.
  • The baby does not seem able to latch on properly. If a baby cannot do this properly because, perhaps, the breasts are too large with not well-defined nipples, or the baby has nasal congestion, then feeding will be in fits and starts and a large amount of air will be taken in at the same time. Again, expressing the milk for Bottle Feeding could be the answer.

The Diet Connection

If none of the above problems apply then the baby could have a sensitivity to certain substances in the breast milk. According to recent Australian paediatric studies, colic in breastfed babies seems to be on the increase and the studies also seem to point to the mother’s diet as being the culprit.

Tests showed that there was a significant improvement in colicky breastfed babies when their mothers removed all traces of cow’s milk protein from their diets. These included milk, yoghurt, cheese, ice cream and anything else which may contain milk.

The Australians also suggested that the rise in colic among breastfed babies might be due to the large number of processed foods – biscuits, cakes, pies etc – which contained milk protein. Look at the labels the next time you are shopping, and see if any of the following ingredients are listed: curds; casein; lactose; whey and casein hydrolysates; lactoglobulin; ammonium caseinate; caseinate; demineralised whey; hydrolized casein; lactoferrin; hydrolized vegetable protein; rennet; lactate starter; calcium caseinate; delactosed whey.

If a baby does improve significantly when cow’s milk protein is removed from the mother’s diet, the chances are that the baby will continue to have that intolerance so great care should be taken when moving that baby on later to a follow-up milk, Normal Milk or Weaning On To Solids.

Another Option

Studies undertaken in South Africa discovered that food sensitivity can occur in breastfeeding babies if they take in high levels of histamine from their mothers. Histamine is a natural substance produced by the body and it is also present in many foods. Sometimes when the body floods with histamine it causes an allergic reaction, but not everyone is aware that they are having one.

The link may not be made between having a slight headache and just having eaten cheese or fish. But a baby’s body, which is so much more sensitive, may react quite strongly to breastmilk which contains histamine, and this can often manifest itself in severe colic, congested nose, a rash or diarrhoea.

There are two types of problem foods – the ones which contain histamine and the ones that cause the body to release histamine.

 Histamine rich foods  Histamine releasing foods
Jams and marmalades
Hams and sausages
Yeast extract (Marmite, stock cubes)
Some oriental foods
Aubergines (eggplant)
Certain Nuts

You can see that some foods are on both lists and therefore are the ones most definitely to be avoided if breastfeeding.

If being on a restricted diet is just too difficult, and you feel that you are just going to have to resort to bottle feeding in an effort to resolve the problem of colic, just remember that there are now hypoallergenic infant formulas on the market. Your health professional should be able to give you the necessary advice.

A Diet for Healthy Breast Feeding

A nursing mother produces around 25 ounces of breast milk per day which requires an extra 500 calories, as well as an increase in the intake of protein, calcium, iron and vitamin B12.

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