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Colic and Breastfeeding: How to Handle It

While it’s natural for a baby to cry, they often do so in an effort to communicate. They cry when they’re hungry, tired, or need a diaper change. When babies begin to cry excessively without any obvious reason, it’s called colic. Your infant may be considered colic if they’re crying for over three hours a day, more days than not, and it continues for at least a month. It can be frustrating, cause spikes in our anxiety, and make us feel helpless, but you’re not alone. Up to 40% of babies experience colic at some point. To better understand colic and breastfeeding, and how to handle it, here are some important factors to familiarize yourself with.

What Contributes to Colic

One thing that we want to make clear is that colic is not your fault. It’s absolutely heart-wrenching for a new mother to see their baby in distress, especially when all you want to do is help. You can do everything to take care of their needs and when the crying doesn’t stop, it can lead to a lot of emotional distress. However, as we mentioned, it’s not your fault. To help you better address colic, it’s important to understand some of the contributing factors.

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Overactive Let-Down

Your breast milk comes out at different speeds, depending on the latch and suckling of your baby’s mouth. If your baby begins to take in a lot of milk quickly, they will also be swallowing a fair amount of air. Your baby may also begin to choke or visibly struggle and then return to the breast. If this is occurring, an overactive let-down phase can be contributing to colic as your baby goes through phases of frustration or impatience during feeding. To help avoid this problem, make sure that your baby has a strong latch and play around with your baby’s positioning. While you may not be able to control the intensity at which your infant feeds, you can make the intake easier with the right position.

It’s important to feed your baby regularly—before they become so hungry that they vigorously feed. The more intense that your baby nurses, the more active your let-down will become. Practice responsive feeding and keep an eye on our baby’s unique hunger cues.

Excess Foremilk

If you’re breastfeeding using both breasts your baby might be ingesting too much foremilk. This can also happen if you have an oversupply of milk. Foremilk is the thin milk that flows out of the breast at the beginning of a nursing session and contains higher amounts of lactose than hindmilk. If you’re overproducing, your foremilk will take longer to get through. Similarly, if you’re switching breasts during the middle of a feeding, your baby may only be getting foremilk and no hindmilk. Since hindmilk is more filling and contains less lactose, an imbalance can occur that leaves your baby hungry and unsatisfied. You’ll notice an imbalance if your baby is colic, has excessive gas, and is experiencing loose green bowel movements.

Environmental Sensitivity

If you notice that the colic only occurs later in the day, it may be caused by excessive sensory input. For the proper development, babies tend to pay more attention to their environment than they do to other people. As the day goes on, this can become overwhelming and eventually lead to colic. Try to reduce the number of external stimuli in the afternoon and find clothes that are soothing on the skin. Stop using the television as background music and instead play some calming music or even white noise.

Diet and Irritants

When you notice signs of colic that are persisting regardless of other efforts, take a look at your diet. When you breastfeed, your child is ingesting the same things that you are. Since their gastrointestinal system is still developing, babies are more sensitive to certain foods, especially dairy. It’s hard on their digestive system and can therefore cause distress after breastfeeding. Some babies may have a dairy allergies and become lactose intolerant. If you consume a lot of dairy, try eliminating it from your diet for a week or so and see if that makes a difference.

Lactose allergies are common among infants but aren’t the only thing that can cause problems. Babies have allergies in the same way that adults do and catching it early can help alleviate colic. Start to eliminate cause for colic by ruling out hunger, illness, medications, supplements, and other foods that you may suspect to be causing problems. Do this slowly and record your baby’s level of colic. If you eliminate something and notice an improvement, keep it out of your diet for a few weeks. Then, introduce it and if your baby becomes colic again, you’ve found your source. If you have any questions about the elimination method for allergies, talk to your pediatrician.

If you resumed the habit of smoking after delivery, try to continue avoidance until your baby is older. Babies are almost twice as likely to have colic when the mother smokes.

Colic may also be caused by reflux disease, thrush, pyloric stenosis, contagious stress, general temperament, your baby’s microbiome, physical pain, gas, diarrhea, congenital disorders, and more. If your baby is experiencing colic and you’re concerned, talk to your pediatrician. While most cases of colic are caused by the contributing factors listed above, it’s good to stray on the side of caution.

Tips on How to Handle and Alleviate Colic

If your baby is struggling with colic, there are a few things that you can try. Start with the above suggestions to slow your let-down, create a balance between foremilk and hindmilk, decrease environmental stimulation, and utilize an elimination diet. If none of those work, move on to the below tips. Just keep in mind that colic may be inconsolable so try to schedule some time with your partner to work in shifts, ask your loved ones for help, and take care of yourself too

Increase Breastfeeding Frequency

Breastfeeding offers a number of benefits. If your baby begins to show signs of colic, attempt to nurse. This will give you the chance to rule out hunger if they don’t latch, but if they do it provides a soothing, close connection that helps to foster protection and love. It can also reduce any pain that your baby is feeling and increase their sleepiness. If colic is getting in the way of breastfeeding, consider talking to a lactation consultant for help.

Make Sure to Burp After Feedings

Trapped gas can cause discomfort and lead to colic symptoms so make sure that you burp your baby after you nurse. You may also find that your baby responds to a slight pressure applied on their abdomen. Try both and see if they bring relief.

Comfort Your Child

Babies need to be comforted, regardless of what they’re feeling. To help alleviate colic, hold your baby close, cuddle them, and show them love. Respond to their crying to let them know that they’re safe and try to carry your baby throughout the day. Utilize slings, wraps, or baby carriers—whatever you feel most comfortable with. You can also try rocking your baby, dancing with them in your arms, or merely walking around your home while you’re carrying them. Get out of the house and go on a walk outside to give them a calming change of scenery. If you’ve never swaddled your baby, do some research and give it a try. Some babies are extremely calm when they are in this more contained position while others get fussy. See what your baby likes and stick to that.

While excess stimulation may increase colic, white background noise can have a soothing effect. Try it by using an app for your phone or a sound machine on low volume.


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Ask for Help

Babies that experience colic often cry continually. It can be both physically and emotionally draining, which tends to create a cycle that only worsens with time. It’s okay to ask for help. In fact, taking a break and having some time for yourself with help you become a better caregiver. Taking care of a newborn without colic is difficult, one with colic can seem impossible without assistance. Ask for help and remember to never, ever shake your baby out of frustration. Your baby is going to cry, but it’s not going to last forever.

If your baby develops colic, try not to blame yourself. Colic will eventually go away—sometimes as quickly as it began. Be patient and try to be optimistic. In the meantime, make sure that you have your insurance-covered breast pump and are using it to help aid in breastfeeding your colic baby. If you have any questions, or are interested in learning about more great pregnancy tips, feel free to contact a representative from Byram Healthcare.