Can Breastfed babies get colic? Expert evidence and advice

By Hannah Whittaker RD, PGDip | Oct 31, 2022

Do you have a breastfed baby that is fussy and unsettled?

You just can’t seem to soothe them and they seem to always have that ‘colicky’ pain, I know, I’ve been there. If this is you then you’re in the right place. I was the same with my daughter, I didn’t know what was wrong, and didn’t have a clue what to do, she just seemed so unhappy.

I have written this blog many years later after my own experience and research into colic in breastfed babies as a paediatric dietitian to help and support you to manage colic in your breastfed baby.

Keep reading to find out the solution.

The common symptoms of colic in breastfed babies

 

  • Hard to settle – yep, this was me. 
  • Will clench their fists as if they are in pain…again yep!
  • Goes red in the face…yep! 
  • Brings their knees up to their tummy and arches their back
  • Has a rumbling tummy and wind. 

I got full marks on this test!

As a new mum, I had chatted with friends, and family, and googled the symptoms over and over. I diagnosed that it was probably colic but I didn’t think breastfed babies could get colic. I wanted to know how did I support my baby and make her more comfortable.

Did you know?

Colic generally starts when your baby is between 2 weeks and 3 months old. By 6 months the evidence suggests that babies no longer experience colic.

This is what I tried when breastfeeding

I was told many times to try Infacol – an over the counter treatment containing Simethicone (used to treat wind). This didn’t work. Gripe water…this didn’t work. I was stuck with what to do next.

I just needed someone to reassure me that colic is completely normal and that no joke, it is and it can happen with any baby, whether breastfed or not.

The Evidence

Colic, can be very distressing for mums. Seeing your baby in pain and not knowing what to do is just awful. Like I did, most people go to their doctors and get professional advice.

So what can we buy over the counter for colic?

Gripe Water

There’s no evidence (as I’m writing this blog) to support using gripe water to reduce the symptoms of colic. But…there is anecdotal evidence. This means that people have said it works for their baby.

I’d advise you to give it a go and if it works for you then amazing. Just make sure that you don’t give gripe water that contains any sucrose (sugar) or alcohol.

Simethicone (Infacol/Colief)

Unfortunately again there is no strong evidence to say that Infacol or Colief will reduce your babies symptoms of colic. Simethicone is an ingredient that is reported to reduce wind. Like gripe water, you can give these products a go but there is no hard evidence for me to say it will work for your baby. 

Probiotics

This one is a little trickier as there is ‘insufficient evidence. This means that there isn’t enough to say whether probiotics do or don’t work to support reducing colic symptoms. But… there is some evidence that shows that a certain strain of probiotics (Lactobacillus Reuters) may reduce the time that babies cry when they have colic symptoms. You’ll have to have a look at the back of the packaging to see if this strain of probiotics is contained.

One product I would recommend is;

‘As an amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases’

Herbal Tea

When I was doing research for this blog I found that herbal tea is still being recommended as a treatment for colic. I would advise you that this is a definite NO for babies. There is no evidence for the use of herbal teas for colic and they can be harmful to babies.

Another thing…if you are giving herbal tea to your baby then they are likely to reduce how often they breastfeed as they are filling up on herbal tea. This could affect their growth and cause nutritional deficiency.

The advice from me is that it is a definite no for herbal tea! 

Can breastfeeding protect my baby from having colic?

There is no evidence that I am aware of to say that breastfeeding will protect your baby from colic. On the flip side, there isn’t any evidence to say that if you formula feed your baby will have colic.

Whichever way you choose to feed your baby is up to you. I did a mixture of both (breast and bottle) and once my daughters were around 4 months old they were both exclusively formula fed. 

How do we manage colic symptoms in breastfed babies if there isn’t anything that can treat it

I know it seems a little negative in this blog so far, I’m aware of that and that you were probably reading through to try to get some answers to help your baby. But…as a Dietitian I will only give you the REAL evidence and what we know works so that you aren’t duped or misguided into buying products or services that are a waste of your money and time. 

Practical tips to help you settle your breastfed colicky baby

  • Hold or cuddle your baby when they become upset
  • Sit your baby upright in between breastfeeds as this will stop them from swallowing a lot of air and will help with winding. 
  • Always wind your baby after feeding – you may also need to do this mid breastfeed.
  • Gently rock your baby over your shoulder – the rocking will soothe them
  • You try going for a walk in the pram or rocking your baby gently in their Moses basket or bouncy chair
  • Bath your baby, making sure it is warm (not hot) as this can help to relieve distress
  • Have some white noise or soothing music on the background as this can distract them from the discomfort. 
  • Don’t stop feeding your baby, keep up with regular feeds 

Should I avoid certain foods to stop my baby getting colic?

Many mums I have spoken to ask whether it is something they are eating that is causing their baby to have colic symptoms.

As a dietitian I would always complete a full assessment to discuss the symptoms that your baby is showing and I would never advise you to remove a food group from your diet unless I felt it was necessary.

From my research, I was shocked to find advice online advising to remove cows milk, wheat, eggs, nuts, peanuts, soya, and fish from your diet from nonreliable people. This is not something that I would advocate or that the evidence shows will reduce colic symptoms. Don’t do it!

Could my baby have a food allergy and not colic?

When is colic, more than colic?

Colic is a symptom and not a condition, this means that the symptom of colic can be caused by something else. You’re baby might have reflux or silent reflux that is causing symptoms.

If after an assessment with me symptoms were more likely due to your baby having a food allergy, then yep we would talk about elimination but mamas please don’t do this on your own. Contact me if you need support.

Have a look at my Instagram post here and if you think you’re baby may have a milk allergy then get in touch.

I hope this has helped to give you some hints and tips on what can help to support your breastfed baby with colic symptoms.

Take care

Hannah x

Hannah Whittaker Dietitian Bump2baby Nutrition
Expert Pregnancy & Paediatric Dietitian at  | info@bump2babynutrition.com | Website

Hannah is an Expert Registered Dietitian specialising in Vegan Family Nutrition and Cows Milk Protein Allergy. 

She is a respected figure in the field of nutrition and a captivating speaker and sought after media spokesperson being featured in esteemed publications including the Sunday Times, Independent and Huffington Post.

Credentials

Registered Dietitian
First Class Degree in Nutrition

Experience

Over 15 years experience working in the field of nutrition
Respected Media Spokesperson both in the UK & USA; quoted online, TV and in local and international news
Writer & Researcher, supporting the BDA and PEN Nutrition

 

 

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