Do you have a colicky breastfed baby?
I did. And I don’t know about you but it was exhausting.
You feel overwhelmed, tired, and at a loss for answers. Nobody seems to know the right advice to give.
I’ve been there. I hope this advice helps you learn the BEST ways to cope with a colicky breastfed baby.
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Breastfeeding Baby With Colic
First of all, let’s define colic.
Colic is when a baby cries for at least 3 hours a day for reasons unknown.
Many moms wonder if it’s a result of them breastfeeding their baby or if it’s their fault. The answer to that is a resounding NO. It’s not your fault.
Did you know that most babies cry between 2 and 2.5 hours per day? So take heart, and know that it’s normal for a baby to cry.
Maybe your baby cries a little bit more than “normal”…
We will talk about what steps you can take to fix the problem. Just know that it’s not necessarily because of breastfeeding. Watch your baby’s number of dirty diapers and their weight gain. Then you’ll know your baby is getting enough milk.
Then keep reading all about how to handle colic while breastfeeding.
Can Breastfed Babies Get Colic?
Yes! Breastfed babies can be colicky.
Actually colic occurs in babies at pretty much the same rate (whether they’re breastfed, formula-fed or a combination).
Moms often wonder if there’s something wrong with their milk…
If you’re thinking about quitting breastfeeding, please don’t!
If a breastfed baby has colic, they will likely get WORSE if they’re switched to formula. Chances are they will still be colicky if you switch.
Does your baby cry when you hold them or try to breastfeed them, but calm when someone else holds them?
Babies can smell their mama’s milk! Sometimes when they smell your milk, they’ll feel like they need to eat (even if they’re not hungry).
You try to feed the baby and they cry, you hold them and they cry, they act hungry and you’re confused.
It’s a common problem! Your baby is just getting used to things. They know your milk is close and that’s what they eat. They cry but can’t regulate whether they need your milk or not. If this is a contributing cause to colic, there’s really nothing you can do.
There’s nothing wrong with your milk.
That’s just how some babies respond to being close to mommy… even if they aren’t hungry.
Breastfeeding A Baby With Colic Symptoms
A breastfeeding mom might be stressed out if her baby has colic. It’s totally understandable. You are giving life to your baby and it may seem like the only explanation for colic is what they’re eating.
Colic usually starts pretty early after birth.
Babies tend to cry and fuss more as they near 6 to 8 weeks of life. This is true for both colicky babies and babies without colic.
There’s good news!
Generally, colic disappears by 4 months.
Colicky Baby Help
As a mother with a colicky baby, I know what it’s like to try and find help. When the crying lasts for hours and nothing you do stops it…
What on earth is a mommy to do?
First let’s talk about some of the things that can cause colic in babies.
What Causes Colic?
There are some things you need to rule out when dealing with a colicky breastfed baby.
- Reflux. It’s common for babies to spit up even if they aren’t colicky. But some babies spit up excessively, which is called reflux. Talk to your pediatrician if you’re concerned your little one might have reflux.
- Oversupply. You’ll probably know if you’re oversupplied. Your breasts will be full of milk (more than your baby actually needs for a feeding). Oversupply can also cause a forceful let-down which makes your baby take in too much milk too quickly.
- Ear Infection. If your baby is inconsolable they might have an ear infection. Your pediatrician should be able to tell quickly if this is the cause of colic and treat it.
- Hair Tourniquet. Make sure there isn’t anything too tight wrapped around your baby. Sometimes hairs can wrap around baby arms, fingers or toes and create a painful tourniquet.
- Other Medical Condition. Having a newborn means that you’ll be working closely with your pediatrician. Keep your appointments (I know there are a LOT in the early days), and talk with them about your concerns. If you have a colicky breastfed baby, your doctor can help you rule out any other medical condition that may be causing the problem.
- Air In Stomach. Sometimes babies swallow air when they’re eating. Often bottle-fed babies swallow air because small bubbles form in the milk. Air in your baby’s stomach can contribute to colic.
- Nothing. This is probably the most common cause of colic in breastfed babies! There usually isn’t a cause. That’s sometimes hard to hear because it makes solutions less black-and-white. But there are still things you can do to help your colicky baby – even if there isn’t an obvious cause!
How To Fix Colic
Here’s the information you’re looking for!
So you have a colicky baby… what on earth can you do about it?
Here’s the steps to take when dealing with a colicky breastfed baby.
What To Do For Colicky Baby: 8 Tips
1. Develop A Mental Checklist
The first thing to do when your baby is crying incessantly is to develop a mental checklist.
It helped me a LOT with my own sanity. Going through my checklist reassured me that I was a good mom and was taking care of my baby!
Things to include on the checklist:
- Is baby hungry?
- Is baby’s diaper wet or dirty?
- Is baby too hot or too cold?
- Is there something tight on baby or causing discomfort?
- Does baby want to be held or cuddled?
- Look around: is there anything else that could be causing your baby distress?
If you’ve run through the checklist and taken care of each part, take a deep breath. Your baby is okay and you’re a good mom.
2. Burp Baby… A Lot
Some babies swallow air when they eat. If you use a bottle, some are better than others about preventing bubbles from getting in the milk.
While feeding your baby, take frequent burp breaks. Don’t be afraid to take multiple burp breaks throughout the feeding.
It often helps to put a littls pressure on your baby’s tummy (don’t over-do it though). You can lean your baby against your chest and place a burp cloth on your shoulder.
Another thing that helps with air in the stomach is bouncing your baby. While you burp them, try standing and bouncing them. You could also put your baby on your knee and bounce them up and down before burping them.
Getting some of the bubbles and air out of their tummy might help reduce colic in a breastfed baby. Gas drops can help bind up the air in your baby’s tummy and help them burp it out.
You can also do bicycle kicks and tummy massage to expel any air that might be in your baby’s tummy. Just lay your baby on their back and circle their feet as if they’re riding a bicycle. You can gently press on their little tummy and try to massage air out.
3. Carry Baby And Feed Frequently
Carry your baby close to you. Newborn babies are used to being in the womb and the world can contribute to colic just because they are new to it
They want to feel comforted and safe, so don’t be afraid to carry and hold your baby a lot! You can’t spoil a newborn baby.
Carrying your baby upright helps with reflux and spitting up. It keeps baby more comfortable and lets gravity help them digest.
Carrying might lead to more frequent feedings. Breastfeeding more often might help with colic because your baby gets less milk at each feeding. It can help their stomach from becoming overwhelmed.
4. Try To Give More Hindmilk
Too much foremilk might contribute to a colicky breastfed baby. In the beginning of a feeding, your milk starts out higher in water and lactose content. As you feed, your milk transitions to become higher in fat (called hindmilk).
Sometimes foremilk contributes to colic in a breastfed baby.
It could be attributed to the higher lactose content. Babies are typically able to digest the lactose found in their mother’s milk, but lactose is a sugar. High sugar content can lead to gas.
Another reason that foremilk can lead to colic in babies is because they need more volume to become full. Foremilk is higher in water content so to eat enough calories, they need more milk.
Over-fullness leads to discomfort, gas and spitting up.
So how do you give more hindmilk?
Try feeding from one side per feeding. Don’t switch them to the other breast, just offer the second breast at the next feeding. Allow your baby to eat as long as they want to get to the hind milk.
5. Do The Colic Hold
The colic hold is an option for a colicky baby. When your baby is uncomfortable, crying, and can’t be consoled it’s worth a try.
To do the colic hold, place your baby’s back against your chest. You and baby will be facing the same direction. Then, take your left arm over your baby’s left shoulder. Hold onto their right thigh.
Your baby will have one arm on either side of your arm. Using your left arm places your baby on their left side.
Only try the colic hold after you’ve run through your mental checklist and know nothing else is causing baby to cry. Sometimes getting your baby into a different position is all they need for relief.
6. Hold, Rock And Comfort Baby
You can’t spoil a newborn.
They are used to their mommy’s womb so when a baby comes into the world, they want that comfort.
Holding, rocking and cuddling your baby can help with colic. Skin-to-skin is beneficial and promotes bonding.
Try to recognize when your baby starts to fuss. It’s better to catch the fussiness and respond before your baby gets too worked up. Comfort and love on your baby before they cry and you might notice a difference in your baby’s colic.
7. Take A Break
Sometimes there just isn’t anything you can do.
There’s a reason for the saying “cry like a baby”… babies cry! It can seem unbearable when it’s been an extended amount of time.
I know sometimes I felt like I just wanted to jump out of the window.
Don’t be afraid to take a break. Run through your mental checklist, make sure your baby is okay. Then set them down in a safe place.
Walk away for 5-10 minutes and take a breather.
Sometimes a little break is all you need to gain your bearings and refresh.
8. Wear Earplugs Or Headphones
I often heard the advice to just hold your baby and let them cry.
Sometimes I did just that. I even cried while my baby cried.
But there came a point when I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I was going crazy.
It must be a mom thing – hearing that high-pitched cry for hours on end. I was losing my mind and felt so hopeless. Taking a break helped but I also wanted to be there to cuddle my baby.
That’s when the idea to try putting in either earplugs or headphones hit me.
I usually opted for earplugs.
Putting in earplugs helped take the edge off the screaming. What I liked about the earplugs is that I could still hear my baby… it just wasn’t driving me bonkers.
Using earplugs helped me be present to comfort my colicky baby… while keeping my sanity by taking the ear-piercing tone away.
9. Reach Out For Support
A colicky breastfed baby is hard to handle on your own.
I’m a huge advocate of breastfeeding support! Sometimes having support makes the difference between breastfeeding success and deciding to stop.
La Leche League is a fantastic option for breastfeeding support. It’s a support group of women that have gone through the breastfeeding journey themselves.
No doubt you will run across someone who’s had a colicky breastfed baby who can offer support. La Leche League is found all over the United States and in many countries, so try and find a group near you.
There are also online support groups. You can ask women you already know if they’ve had experience with a colicky baby. Don’t be afraid to reach out! Support comes in all shapes and sizes, just try to find others to support and uplift you during this time.
Gripe water has been shown successful as a traditional remedy, talk to your doctor about if it’s a good option for your baby.
10. The 5 “S”s
Dr. Harvey Karp is a pediatrician who has a way with babies. He’s done research and had success with soothing and calming techniques. He specializes in baby sleep but has fantastic advice for a colicky baby as well.
He recommends calming a baby by using the 5 S’s. These things simulate the womb and bring a baby comfort. They may reduce your baby’s crying and calm them. The 5 S’s are:
- Swaddle: try swaddling your baby tightly.
- Side (stomach position): lay your baby on their side or hold them against you while on their side.
- Shushing: make shushing noises – they remind baby of the noises they heard in your womb.
- Swinging: rock in a rocking chair or stand and swing your baby from side to side.
- Sucking: you can try nursing your baby for comfort or offer them a pacifier.
What Causes Colic
Colic more common in first babies of moms who become stressed easily.
That was me! Personally I think I was stressed because there was nothing I could do. I like being able to fix things so it was discouraging that I couldn’t help my little one.
The thing is… my stress probably contributed to the colic.
Most babies cry for 2-2.5 hours per day. That’s normal. Usually crying increases until 6-8 weeks of age and then starts to decrease. Maybe knowing that crying is normal would have helped me cope better with my colicky breastfed baby.
There is speculation that withdrawing from hormones may cause colic in babies. When in your womb, your baby is exposed to all your hormones. Then they’re born and have none!
The good news is that breastfeeding actually helps! There are hormones in your breast milk that may help with hormone withdrawal. This is one reason why switching to formula might make colic worse.
Generally colic goes away between 3 and 4 months of your baby’s life. They start to get older and their GI tract becomes more mature.
Remember it’s NOT your fault!
Diet For Breastfeeding Baby With Colic
A common question for moms with a colicky breastfed baby is what to eat. Some people believe that a mother’s diet can affect her baby and cause colic.
However, studies are UNCLEAR about how diet affects babies.
The most common food to eliminate is cow’s milk in mom’s diet.
But again, studies are conflicting. This study shows that removing cows milk helped reduce colic; and reintroducing milk brought back colic. But this study shows NO difference between moms who drank cow’s milk and those who did not.
If you’re wondering whether cow’s milk is causing your breastfed baby to be colicky, try going dairy-free for at least one week (preferably two). A week gives your body enough time to get the dairy out of your system and see results if your baby is affected.
Colic could be caused by things other than cow’s milk. It could be eggs, chocolate, caffeine….
Or not influenced by moms diet at all!
It doesn’t hurt to eliminate some foods if you suspect they’re causing colic in your breastfed baby. But if it causes too much stress to eliminate foods from your diet, rest in the fact that nobody knows if food actually causes a problem or not.
Temporary Baby Colic
There’s speculation over whether certain foods can cause temporary colic.
Some moms notice that their baby is especially fussy or crying incessantly after they eat certain things.
The foods that could be responsible for a short bout of colic include cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower), milk, chocolate, beans, caffeine, and spicy foods.
Pay attention to your baby if you introduce a new food. If your breastfed baby starts to act colicky, it might be best to avoid that food until your baby is older and better able to digest.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.
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