For the first four or five months of life, babies do little more than eat, sleep and cry. If the crying goes beyond occasional fussiness to hours of constant shrieking, parents become frustrated. And if a clean nappy, a warm breast or bottle and lots of cuddling fail to silence the baby’s cries, parents become frightened – and probably ask their doctor for help. In most cases, the doctor says the baby has colic. In other words large amounts of gas are building up in the baby’s intestines, causing lots of discomfort and the constant crying.
Allergy to milk is the most common cause of colic. In bottle-fed infants, the treatment is simple and obvious: change from a milk-based formula to a soya-based or other type of milk-free formula.
But occasionally, even a breastfed infant will get colic.
‘The colicky breast-fed infant is also allergic to milk,’ says Del Stigler, a pediatrician and allergist in Denver. ‘Not to the mother’s milk, though, but to the cow’s milk the mother is drinking. Particles of cow’s milk reach the infant through the breast milk and cause colic. Take the mother off cow’s milk and the baby will be well in two or three days.’
Many parents have been delighted to discover that a milk-free diet for Mum wipes out colic for baby. In a study by Swedish doctors, eighteen mothers of colicky babies were put on a milk-free diet. ‘Colic promptly disappeared in thirteen of the infants,’ say the researchers. ‘We conclude that infantile colic in breastfed infants can be caused by cow’s milk consumption by the mother, and we suggest a diet free of cow’s milk for the mother’. (Lancet.)
Any hard-to-digest foods that a nursing mother eats or drinks are also apt to pass through her breast milk to the baby and cause colic. So in addition to suggesting a milk-free diet to nursing mothers, many pediatricians recommend that they avoid ‘gassy’ foods such as beans, beer, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carbonated beverages, champagne, lentils and mushrooms, plus any spices that seem to cause irritability in the breastfed baby.
If colic persists, the next step is to eliminate cereals or any other solid foods that the baby is eating. Most foods require several enzymes for digestion. A young baby’s body needs time to develop all the enzymes required to digest more complex food. If you give a baby solid food before his stomach and intestines are equipped to handle it, he’ll get gas. After a couple of months of freedom from colic, you can reintroduce solid foods – one at a time and several days apart – to test the baby’s tolerance.
Doctors sometimes also suggest that parents of a colicky baby temporarily withhold the baby’s vitamin supplements, to see if sugars or additives in those products could be the problem.