Is there a relationship between breastfeeding and colic?

Colic is characterized by a baby’s uncontrollable crying over an extended period of time (more than 3 hours a day on more than 3 days a week), for no easily-pinned-down reason in an infant younger than 3 months old. That’s largely because colic is a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that babies are diagnosed with colic when a pediatrician can’t find any other reason for the persistent crying. This means it can be hard for parents to know what to do to soothe colic. In the absence of other options, some parents turn to a mom’s breastfeeding diet to try to find a culprit.

Can breastfeeding diet affect colic?

More easily diagnosable digestive issues aren’t generally considered to be colic at all, but the parents of colicky babies sometimes feel like their little ones might be suffering from more subtle digestive concerns. Caffeine is one substance that people have tried to link to colic, but evidence from several studies, including a 2016 study in Pediatrics, suggests that traces of caffeine in breastmilk don’t have much of any impact on babies’ sleep or crying patterns.
The effect that other foods have is less clear. A small 2005 study showed a decrease of colic crying in the babies of mothers who went on diets that excluded the most common allergens:
  • Cow’s milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish
Since this is a long list of foods to avoid, women who wonder if an allergen in their diet might contribute to their babies’ colic more commonly try excluding one type of food at a time, to see if it makes a difference.

Other foods that have been suggested might cause gas, which can make colic symptoms worse, include certain vegetables like garlic, onions, cabbage, turnips, broccoli, beans, and fruits like apricots, rhubarb, prunes, melons, peaches, and others.

Colic occurs about as often in formula-fed babies as it does in babies who breastfeed, so it’s entirely possible that an altered diet won’t do much to change colic symptoms. Some families do find altered diets helpful, though. If your breastfed baby seems to have worse colic symptoms after feeding, keeping a record of colic episodes, and what you’ve eaten in the hours leading up to breastfeeding may help you identify a pattern.

No matter what is or isn’t causing or colic or adding to symptoms, colic usually improves or disappears by the time a baby is around 3 or 4 months old. You should speak with Baby‘s pediatrician if you have any questions about colic.

  • Jenn Cox. “How your breastfeeding diet affects you baby.” Today’s Parent. Today’s Parent, January 22 2016. Web.
  • Healthwise Staff. “Colic.” C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Regents of the University of Michigan, November 20 2015. Web.
  • Healthwise Staff. “Diet, Breastfeeding, and Colic.” C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Regents of the University of Michigan, November 20 2015. Web.
  • David H. Hill, et al. “Effect of a Low-Allergen Maternal Diet on Colic Among Breastfed Infants: A Randomized, Controlled Trial.” Pediatrics. 116(3). Web. November 2005.
  • Ina S. Santos, Alicia Matijasevich, Marlos R. Domingues. “Maternal Caffeine Consumption and Infant Nighttime Waking: Prospective Cohort Study.” Pediatrics. 129(5): 860-868. Web. May 2012.
  • “Breastfeeding a baby with a health problem.” Women’s Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, July 21 2014. Web.
  • “Things to Avoid When Breastfeeding.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
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