The first few days of my first daughter’s life – spent in the hospital – were fairly uneventful. Although I was slow to recover from my delivery, Mae was a happy, healthy baby girl, and we were so thankful.
And then we took her home. The first night, she didn’t sleep at all. Not one wink from 11 pm to 7 am. She had her nights mixed up with her days, they said. “Try to keep her up during the day so she’ll sleep at night.” Anyone who’s tried to keep a 4-day-old entertained enough to stay awake knows you’d have a better shot at waking the dead.
Then the crying started. Wailing is probably a more accurate term. “Colic,” they said. A simple term offered to parents who are desperately seeking some solutions…and colic has none.
One late night around four weeks old, my husband was trying to soothe her. As she wailed in his ear (I’m sure our neighbors loved us during this time), he shouted, “SHE’S CRYING LIKE SHE’S ON FIRE.” Up until that point, I hadn’t really thought too much about whether we were having a normal experience. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought too much about anything beyond surviving moment by moment. We were first-time parents, and after all, babies cry, right? But his comment stuck with me, and I called my doctor office’s nurse hotline the next day.
Me: “My daughter only sleeps for about 10 minutes at a time, day or night, and cries non-stop. Is that normal?”
Nurse: “Oh dear, no! You must be exhausted!”
Me (nodding off mid-conversation): “Yeah, a little bit.”
I was breastfeeding, and after giving the nurse more details about my daughter’s symptoms, she seemed to think Mae might be sensitive to cow’s milk protein in my breast milk. She suggested I try giving up dairy and caffeine. The world stopped spinning for a moment as the weight of this sunk in.
Me: “When you say ‘give up all dairy and caffeine,’ what exactly do you mean? Certainly not cheese, ice cream, chocolate, coffee?”
Nurse (with patience): “Yes, all of those things. And butter.”
At that point, I became short of breath. I quickly thanked her and hung up, reeling from this information. I couldn’t possibly remove all dairy and caffeine from my diet. I mean, I drink more milk – and certainly more chocolate milk – than any adult I know. I dismissed the thought and moved on with my day.
But later that evening, when faced with yet another sleepless night and a screaming baby, I decided I had to try it.
Is There Something Else Going On?
I’ll save the rest of my story for future posts, as I have lots more to share. For today, I want to pose a simple question for those parents who are struggling with a colicky baby: Could it be something more?
Cutting out all dairy and caffeine from my breastfeeding diet was incredibly difficult for the selfish part of me to do, but it did make a difference in my daughter’s comfort. Although she was still a fussy baby up until about 5 or 6 months old, her discomfort and crying were nothing compared to that first few weeks.
If you’re breastfeeding and your baby is very fussy and/or colicky, you may want to consider trying to cut out certain things from your diet to see if it makes a difference for your baby.
Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy
All the statistics say that only 1-3% of breastfed babies have a milk allergy. I don’t doubt the prevalence of a severe milk allergy is that low, but I believe a sensitivity to the protein found in cow’s milk is a much more common occurrence. I know a lot of breastfeeding moms who have had to give up dairy while they were breastfeeding; in my family alone, I had to do it for both of my daughters and my sister had to do it for her youngest.
Did you know our bodies weren’t made to digest cow’s milk on a regular basis? We’ve evolved over a very long period of time to the point that many of us are able to digest it, but an infant’s body sometimes needs a bit more time to adjust. If you’re worried that cutting out dairy from your breastfeeding diet is going to ensure your baby is lactose intolerant for the rest of his life, don’t. The sensitivity to cow’s milk protein is not lactose intolerance, and it’s likely not long-term. For both of my girls, I was able to incorporate dairy back into my breastfeeding diet by 6-8 months old, and they were able to drink regular cow’s milk on their own between 12-18 months old.
Acid reflux or GERD
When my niece was two months old, my sister started to notice that she cried and arched her back after every time she breastfed her. She decided to cut out acidic foods, like tomato sauce and orange juice, as she had eliminated those things from her diet with my nephew, and it worked well. However, it didn’t make enough of a difference for my niece. She took her to the doctor, and they diagnosed her with acid reflux and got her on some medication that greatly helped.
Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common issue for infants. Two out of three babies (up to 4 months old) suffer from GERD symptoms in the US. In addition to medication, cutting out acidic foods from your diet can help relieve your baby’s symptoms, as well as making adjustments to how you feed. Use the Australian hold (pictured below) when you breastfeed, which ensures your baby sits up and doesn’t allow the stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus. When bottle feeding, use a special feeding system like the Bare Air-Free bottles, which are designed specifically for breastfeeding babies and for acid reflux babies.
Something else in your diet
If you’ve tried cutting out dairy and acidic foods, and it’s not making a difference in your baby’s fussiness, then it might be something else in your diet. Pay attention to when your baby is fussy and how it might be linked to something you’re consuming (food or drinks). Common culprits are gassy foods like broccoli, beans, and brussels sprouts, but the technical list of foods that can cause gassiness in breastfed babies is nearly unending. The easiest thing to do is to keep a food and drink diary for a few days, noting when your baby is fussiest, and see if you can find any patterns.
Although I know plenty of moms who haven’t had to change their diets while breastfeeding, I probably know just as many who have. My sister and I had to alter our diets for all of our children – five out of five. As challenging as it was to eliminate foods I love from my diet, it was nothing compared to the challenge of an inconsolable, colicky baby. If you’re breastfeeding and your baby has colic, ask yourself…could it be something more?
About Katie Stansberry
Katie Stansberry is a work-from-home mom of two sweet girls and the creator of Breastfeeding Bliss. After struggling at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey, she wanted to create a happy place where breastfeeding moms could find practical tips, positive inspiration, and the newest and best breastfeeding products. On her "Back to Bliss" breastfeeding blog, she shares her personal stories and tips for making breastfeeding an easier and more enjoyable experience.