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Please note that the following should be seen as general information about colic in relation to diet. For specific advice, please consult your healthcare professional.
If your baby is suffering from colic, you’re most likely wondering what on earth you can do. Watching a baby suffer is never easy and, especially when they are otherwise healthy, colic can be infuriating.
Signs of colic include:
Predictable crying episodes – A baby who has colic often cries about the same time every day, usually in the late afternoon or evening. Colic episodes may last from a few minutes to three hours or more on any given day.
Predictable bowel movements – Following a colic episode, or towards the end of it, your baby may have a bowel movement or pass gas which seems to offer temporary relief.
Intense or inconsolable crying – Colic crying is intense and often high-pitched. Your baby’s face could appear flushed and, no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to comfort them.
Posture changes – Colicky babies are often uncomfortable, and as a result you may notice changes in their posture. This includes curled up legs, clenched fists and tensed abdominal muscles.
The word “colic” means spasm, or painful tightening of muscle, but colic itself remains a bit of a mystery. The term applies to any healthy, well-fed infant who cries intensely or for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week, and for more than three weeks.
Colic is likely to start around the age of two weeks in a full-term baby, or later if your baby was premature, and can affect any baby whether it is breastfed, formula-fed, male or female. The good news is that colic usually goes away on its own by three or four months old.
While the causes of colic are unknown, many parents find themselves turning towards treatments such as craniosacral therapy, regular car trips, gentle rocking or white noise. Others turn to herbal remedies such as chamomile or gripe water, but ingredients aren’t always well-labelled and some babies are known to have allergies of these.
The fact is, colic isn’t just hard on baby – it’s hard on the parents too. If you’re calling out for an answer to it, you’re not alone.
One thing you may not have considered is the foods you’re putting into your own body. Mothers who are breastfeeding can generally enjoy a bountiful menu, but some babies are sensitive to certain foods. The basic rules to keep a mother’s diet healthy in the post-natal period are to keeps foods gentle, warming and very nourishing. This involves slow-cooked foods such as soups and stews, avoiding too much raw food, and limiting foods eaten straight out of the fridge or freezer. Anything too hard that comes through the mother’s milk can be damaging to a baby’s underdeveloped gut, and eating delicately will help your child to develop a strong gut for life.
Colic-causing foods can enter your breast milk and upset your baby as early as two hours after you ingest it, with potential irritants being:
Dairy products include milk, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream. It is thought that cow’s milk is a leading cause of diet-related colic. The proteins in cow’s milk easily enter breast milk to be transferred to your baby, which is normally a good thing as it gets baby used to the proteins for later on. But sometimes, sensitivity to cow’s milk can cause colic.
If you suspect this is the case, you could try eliminating dairy products for 7-10 days to see if there’s any improvement. If there has been no change for the better in your baby, slowly reintroduce the products. If you do notice a difference and are worried about your calcium intake, talk to a dietician about acquiring calcium in other ways, such as through collard greens, broccoli, edamame, sardines, figs, oranges and calcium-fortified products.
Soft drinks, chocolate, coffee, tea, energy drinks and certain cold remedies all contain caffeine and, when you have a significant amount of it, your baby could get colic as a result. Many mums find that giving up caffeine can produce instant changes to their baby’s daily behaviour.
If you were to taste your breast milk after consuming a spicy dinner, you would notice a very distinct taste. That’s because small traces of spice have entered your milk supply. For most babies, this is fine and helps to get them used to new tastes, but for others even the mildest of spices can be enough to cause discomfort. This is even more likely the case if you have ever suffered heartburn after eating spicy food.
The fats from grains, nuts, seeds, avocados and olives are important for keeping your baby’s skin in good condition, but every so often they can cause mild colic. The most common culprits are wheat, corn, peanuts and soy.
No doubt you’ve experienced the not-so-pleasant effects of an overly-gassy meal, one that consists of broccoli, onions, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage. Too much gas can cause significant discomfort in the belly, and if your baby is overly sensitive to this, cutting out gassy foods could be a quick fix.
Determining whether the food you eat could be causing your baby’s colic is done using a simple three-step process:
By documenting the foods you eat and writing down when and how long for your baby has their colic episodes, you can help create links between food and discomfort. Make note of any changes in your baby’s behaviour, such as fussiness, crying, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, unexplained night waking, or reddening around the anus.
Having determined a link between food and behaviour, you can now eliminate the suspect source. Try to refrain from consuming it for 10 to 14 days for best results. Observe your baby to see if their colic symptoms diminish or disappear. If there is no change, go back to step one. If the symptoms improve, move onto step three.
If your baby’s symptoms have disappeared, challenge the source by slowly reintroducing it. If the symptoms reappear within 24 hours, temporarily scratch this food off your menu. Continue to challenge at regular intervals until you determine the food source is once again safe to consume. Most babies are only temporarily intolerant of certain foods, and labelling a food as permanently off-limits may unnecessarily deprive you and your baby of a valuable source of nutrients.
To help reduce any chance of colic, there are a number of foods that mums can limit or avoid during the six weeks leading up to birth and the 2-3 months that follow. These include:
There are also those foods that will encourage a healthy gut and can help prevent symptoms of colic. These include:
You could even try making certain recipes that incorporate digestion-boosting ingredients, such as this warming apple cider, braised fennel and kale salad.
Remember, there is no known “cure” for colic, but using a trial and error method you may see some improvement in symptoms. You may find one thing works or it might instead be the result of several factors, but be prepared that you may just have to wait it out. Eventually, your baby will grow out of it and having a baby with colic is no reflection on your parenting. Colic can strike any baby at any time, and while it’s common to feel angry and resentful, you should never feel guilty that your baby is in pain. Just soothe as best you can, and take a break when you need to.
Please note that the information provided by Bellamy’s Organic is to be seen as general advice only. Any questions you have related to your child’s welfare, please speak with your General Practitioner or paediatrician.