My Baby Had Colic & Food Intolerances, and I Survived

I feel a little annoyed by people who talk about how their babies never fuss, they’re great sleepers, and they can be passed from person to person without crying, then label them “good.” As if babies who aren’t like that – and most aren’t – are somehow BAD. And while these people pretend that they aren’t bragging about their “good” baby (which they are, it’s only natural), they’re making the rest of us feel a little insecure. And that isn’t helpful. It might be part of the reason why no one talks about their bundle of joy screaming their freaking face off night after night.

I am not ashamed to say that my baby was colicky. It wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t my fault. But Charlie had colic, and it really was awful. It lasted from three weeks until she was about four months old. That’s a long damn time when your baby is crying most of the time and you don’t know why. She cried and cried, but at no point did I think she was a “bad” baby. If I’m honest, though, I’ll admit I was worried that other people might think she was “bad.” Inside, I felt defensive of her. I also thought, “something is WRONG. I have to figure out what it is.”

Before I go any further into this, let me define colic for those of you who don’t know. Colic is medically defined as a condition in which an otherwise healthy baby shows periods of intense, unexplained crying lasting more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week for more than 3 weeks. It usually disappears by the age of 3-4 months, and is allegedly lower in breastfed babies.

When Charlie was about three weeks old, we noticed that she was crying a lot. To be honest, though, as first time parents we had no idea what a “normal” amount of crying was, and it took us quite awhile to realize that what was happening wasn’t normal. After all, there’s a book and DVD set called “the Happiest Baby on the Block,” which is designed to get babies to stop crying…so some amount of crying is to be expected.  We quickly became experts at the techniques in the Happiest Baby on the Block. We spent hours bouncing her up and down while sitting on an exercise ball. We swaddled her up and we had skin to skin contact. We put her on her side and shushed loudly in her ear. We “wore” her in a moby wrap. Y practically wore down the tile in the kitchen, walking around in circles night after night.

And still, the crying didn’t stop.  I called her doctor at least three times (and the advice nurse even more), when I had reached the edge of being able to cope and convinced myself that there had to be a solution. After all, the diagnosis of “colic” is complete and total crap. Yes, I KNOW my baby is crying all the time. Naming it doesn’t help. Give me a damn solution, will you?

How we helped our colicky baby

While there was no solution, per se, we did find at least part of the problem. And to be honest, I am posting this not because I think you guys will find it riveting, but mostly because I hope that at least one mother (or father) out there will google “my baby cries all the time,” “cause of colic” or “help with colicky baby” and happen upon this post.

Our doctor told us that some babies seem to have very sensitive intestinal tracts – it’s not just that they’re necessarily immature (which is an abandoned theory as to the cause of colic), as much as they are sensitive. It seems that the normal processes of digestion (not gas) cause these babies a lot of pain, and that pain causes a lot of crying.

However, in my online research I found some sources that say experts no longer believe that colic is caused by stomach pain or immature intestinal tracts; it is now believed that colicky babies are normal – just more vocal than other babies (ie, they’re big complainers so their parents are more likely to call their doctor). There are several reasons why the opinion has changed, but I don’t want to bore you with them. If you’re interested, check out Wiki. There’s one point, though, that I’m going to talk about:

In 90% of cases, colic is unrelated to a baby’s diet. However, in 10% of cases colic is triggered by stomach discomfort from food allergy and requires altering the diet of a breastfeeding mom or switching a baby to a hypoallergenic formula.

So although some colicky babies are just “loud,” some of them are obviously in pain. And I absolutely and completely believe that Charlie was one of these babies.

Why do I believe this? Well, let’s return to that part about “altering the diet of a breastfeeding mom.” Often, I’d feed Charlie and within an hour she would be screaming. Not just crying; she’d be screaming, writhing around, arching her back, and punching the air with her little baby fists. It was heartbreaking. Then one day, I noticed it was worse after I ate some (okay, a LOT) of the fudge that my sister-in-law made.

As a bit of background, my friend Krista had to cut dairy out of her diet while she was breastfeeding her baby. I remembered her describing her baby as “screaming in pain,” so I decided to call her and have her describe what she had experienced. As a result of that conversation, I cut chocolate out of my diet.  I lamented my inability to eat delicious fudge, but Charlie seemed to be crying a little bit less (I had been eating a lot of chocolate, haha). It was encouraging.

The screaming didn’t end, though, and eventually I tried eliminating dairy, which I never would have thought I was capable of. Not only did I live off of dairy (cheese, anyone?), but I am kind of infamous in my family for having zero self-control. But man, I quit dairy cold turkey and never looked back. I was actually surprised by how easy it was (and seriously, if I can do it, anyone can do it). It was easy in part because the benefits were almost immediate. It takes some babies three weeks to show improvement, but with Charlie it was one day. She was like a whole new baby, I kid you not.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. As you can imagine, eating dairy-free is really hard, especially for a vegetarian.  I had to suck it up and eat a lot more meat.  And, because I really don’t like meat, I was eating a lot more soy.  But as it turns out, something like 30% of newborns with a dairy allergy/intolerance also have an intolerance to soy.  Charlie and I are apparently part of that lucky 30%.  Trial and error has shown us that she can tolerate small amounts of soy (like butter substitute, a Tofutti Cutie, etc), but a meal made with primarily tofu is a no-go.

After we initially figured all of this out, I went for about two months with very little soy, and no dairy or chocolate. Then one day, Y messed up and accidentally gave me cheddar popcorn (he thought it was plain popcorn and didn’t read the ingredients). I thought to myself, “man, this popcorn is GOOD! I can’t believe it’s ‘legal’ for me to eat!” As it turned out, it was not legal. It seemed like every freakin’ ingredient in that popcorn contained some kind of dairy. I was so, so upset. And so was Charlie. She screamed in pain, like we hadn’t heard in weeks. Poor Y felt horrible. If we needed any more convincing that Charlie had a dairy allergy/intolerance, that popcorn did it.

So the screaming was gone, but I eventually ended up cutting out wheat as well. A lactation consultant gave me a handout about “food sensitivities in babies” and I learned that “chronic congestion” was one of the symptoms. After I cut out wheat, Charlie’s stuffy nose was gone. It was amazing.

Now, I don’t want to leave you thinking this cured Charlie of colic, because it didn’t. She still cried a lot more than “normal” three month old babies, and she had a hard time sleeping (colicky and post-colicky babies often do). But the difference in our lives after cutting out dairy was AMAZING. Watching our baby scream in pain made us feel helpless. Our hearts broke for her. After I cut out dairy, she still cried, but we no longer felt that same level of heartbreak.

Why I think food sensitivities are more common than experts think

If you’ll recall from above, Wiki mentions that about 10% of breastfed babies have problems relating to their mother’s diets. And remember, I mentioned that my friend Krista had to cut dairy out of her diet. Well, she wasn’t the only one; I also know five other breastfeeding women who have had to cut dairy and other foods out of their diets. How many breastfeeding women do I know? Uh, not that many. When we switched to a new pediatrician and I explained Charlie’s food sensitivities, the doctor nodded knowingly and said, “this is a lot more common than one might think.”

When I was a baby, I was breastfed until I was five months old, at which point my mom tried to switch me to formula. Cue insane crying. I was intolerant to pretty much everything she tried to feed me. Y also cried incessantly as a baby.  How many “colicky” babies are being breastfed by mothers who have no idea that babies can be affected by a mother’s diet? How many babies are being formula fed, when they have an intolerance to dairy or soy? My guess is a lot more than experts think.

The #1 question I was asked when I told people about my limited diet was, “will she grow out of this?” And the answer is “most likely.” For most babies, this is an intolerance, not an allergy.  But this issue doesn’t seem to be very heavily researched, and a lot of doctors don’t know much about it. In order to find out whether Charlie was actually allergic, we went to an allergist and had the poor girl tested. We found out later, though, that allergy tests in babies under a year old aren’t even considered valid – yet the allergist we saw didn’t know that, hadn’t heard about actual allergies to proteins passed through breast milk, and had never tested a four month old baby.

Where we are now

Charlie is now seven months old, and is a complete and utter joy to be around. She only cries when something is wrong. Over the months, we’ve done a few food trials to see if she’s more tolerant to foods in my diet:

  • 5 months: drank a lot of soy nog, which caused her to have a lot of gas and wake up crying. Determined that a lot of soy is still not good, but a little is okay.
  • 6 months: introduced wheat, which caused no reaction. I now eat wheat, but only in small quantities (just to be safe). Interestingly, I think I felt a little healthier when I wasn’t eating wheat, so I may experiment with that later.
  • 7 months: four spoonfuls of yogurt, no reaction. We were told to try yogurt before other forms of dairy (not sure why). I didn’t have a lot, but enough to definitely consider it a trial.
  • Yesterday (7.5 months): three large crackers with delicious cheese on top, no reaction. YAY!!!  I’m not going to go hog-wild or anything, but I think it might be okay to stop panicking about whether or not something is made with butter.

Solid foods, however, are not going very well.  At six months, we started introducing various kinds of vegetables to see how she liked the taste. At first we were trying Baby Led Weaning, but I was nervous about choking after she kept shoving sweet potatoes down her gullet, so we switched to purees. The first thing she ate a lot of was carrots, which she loved. Unfortunately, she spit up most of it and seemed to have a horrible tummy ache. A few days later, we tried butternut squash, which gave her a rash. After contacting her doctor, we are now introducing solid foods much more slowly, starting with a week of rice cereal followed by a week of oatmeal, then mixed grain. Once we’re finished with that, we’ll start introducing vegetables – one per week.

So as you can see, Charlie has a very sensitive tummy, which we are still dealing with seven months later. But colic has been gone for months (thank god) and her real personality has come out!  She’s so much fun. When you’re in the middle of it, it seems like it will never, ever end. But it does.

This is obviously only our experience, and not all colicky babies will be helped by changing their diet. But ours was, and I’m sure others will be, too. I know there are other people out there who had/have colicky babies, even if you don’t see many bloggers talking about it. You are not alone!!

Author: Sara

Single mom at 29. Diagnosed with breast cancer at 34. I believe in grit, resilience, and the power of making lemonade out of exceedingly sour lemons.

18 thoughts on “My Baby Had Colic & Food Intolerances, and I Survived”

  1. Yogurt is supposed to be better tolerated by adults with lactose sensitivities, too. Something about the bacteria aiding digestion of the lactose, I think, but maybe another commenter will know more about it.

  2. So I am not a mom, but my mom and her friend were talking about how her daughter and I were both super colicky. (I don’t think I knew this before). My mom (who isn’t an expert) said that colicky babies end up being more intelligent because of all the extra interaction they get with their parents as a result of the constant crying. The other baby in the story ended up as a lawyer and I’m an engineer getting my MBA, so maybe it’s true? At the very least, it might make you feel better to know that Charlie is going to be super smart because she cries a lot? Just throwing that out there!

  3. I agree completely that more babies are sensitive than the experts are aware of… my brother, for one, had an intolerance to lactose and he was formula-fed (regular formula!) so he screamed in pain basically the whole first year of his life. It breaks my heart to think of families not knowing about this and having them and their babies go through so much pain (physically and emotionally!)

    I think the reason for the yogurt first is that the proteins in yogurt are least likely to cause a reaction. Then cheese. Milk is the worst offender, usually. I’m glad you’re able to add a little in, now. Whew!

  4. So sorry you and Charlie went through so much in her early months. 😦

    We, too, went through colic for about a month and I’m still not sure if she had food sensitivities or not. At the time I cut out common irritants (ie, dairy, wheat, shellfish, etc) and it only seemed to help a little. Incidentally, it was ONLY when we switched to 100% formula (a lactose-free kind) that her colic went away. Now this can be purely coincidental but it can also mean that my breastmilk just did not jive well with her. And I guess I’ll never know, because she’s been on the same formula since then and she’s been doing just fine.

    P.S. — I also get mildly irritated when people brag about how “good” their babies are.

  5. Aww, that pic of the allergy test is heartbreaking. Thanks for this post! I’ve had a couple of hints that Arden might be intolerant to dairy…I think I might have to give up cheese too (I’m a veg as well). Cheese is pretty much the only dairy I eat, but I love it sooo much. It will be hard for sure, but if it helps my little gremlin, I’m all for it 😉

  6. I am not a mom, but I want to thank you so much for ypur honesty about everything thus far. Your birth story, your experiences and now about colic!  I will be bookmarking these blogposts for when/if I become a mom!

  7. I have an almost two year old that has a ton of food sensitivities, and because I still nurse I am off all of the foods she is off!  Dairy, soy, wheat….  lot’s of meat and veggies.  We need to do a recipe swap!  Good luck with everything!

  8. A friend of mine sent me this blog post after I was telling her what we were going through. My daughter is 9 weeks old and we have been going through the same exact thing! At 3 weeks I cut back on dairy. At 4 weeks I knew it was making a difference and cut it out entirely. The doctor told me just to get the gas drops or to come to terms with the fact that my baby had colic. I too felt there had to be a better explanation. I have the La Leche League breastfeeding book. Thank god for that book, otherwise I would have never known. Did you know there is dairy in everything?! Even lunch meat has some form of milk protein in it (again thanks to la leche league inhale this knowledge). I have cut everything out of my diet – wheat, dairy, soy, chocolate, peanut butter…and what a difference it has made. I wish I had known sooner what to do. Seeing her scream her head off was quite unbearable. Now that I’ve found the problem and spoke with other breastfeeding friends I found out 2 moms I know had the EXACT same problem. They figured out what to do thanks to the power of google. Why do doctors not suggest this? When insaw the doctor at our visit her response was that this is very common in babies from 0 to 3 months. Ummm… so is colic.

    Anyhow, THANK YOU for sharing. It is so nice to know I am not alone. People look at me like I’m crazy when I say I can’t have dairy because of her. And then they do ask when/if she’ll grow out of it. Like I know! The doctor said I could see if she could handle it better at 3 months. I told her sure, I’ll test the waters. But if she’s screaming at 2 am I’ll call you. Like I’m going to chance it! She’s in pain from it!

  9. Winter also has a dairy intolerance. Luckily she wasnt colicy. Her symptoms were a runny nose for 8 constant months & poor sleeping.  With in 4 days of cutting dairy (for both of us) her nose stopped running. Unfortunately her sleep hasn’t improved though 😦

  10. I really dislike the concept of colic and how it’s a catch-all diagnosis for a baby who’s obviously in pain. My baby is in pain, he’s not just “more vocal”. My friend’s son went through hell before a ped finally correctly diagnosed his “colic” as GURD. Unfortunatley a previous ped told her to switch to formula because he was allergic to her breastmilk. Later it was determined not to be BS, but that he had a ton of food sensitivities & allergies.

    My son had sensitivities to the onions, garlic, curry and chocolate that I ate. I also cut out milk for a while, but was still able to eat yogurt and cheese. I started eating the sensitive foods again when he was 6 months old little by little. He eventually grew out of all of them and now has no known food sensitivities at 18 months old.

    My son also got a horrible belly ache after he tried carrots for the first time. Afterward I was told that some babies have a hard time digesting the extra nitrates that are in carrots.  Avocado was an excellent first veggie for us! He loved it and we didn’t have to do anything to it.

    I had the same thoughts about Baby Led Weaning. Freaked me out with how my son crammed food down his throat!

  11. This post helped me so much. I have a new baby and have been dealing with the dreaded colic! I asked his pediatrician about food allergies and was given the brush off and told that he was just fussy and it would pass. I went with my gut and cut out dairy from my diet and switched his formula to a milk free version (Due to a low milk supply I have to supplement). I now have a new baby! It changed everything! My little guy is still pretty fussy. I think he may just be a bit sensitive… but he no longer scream cries all day long. It feels so nice to know I wasn’t alone in this experience.

  12. My son is 11 weeks and I’ve cut out dairy, soy, gluten and corn out if my diet. He is so much better!!!  A few mistakes along the way showed clearly that his crying is food related! So thanks for this blog cause some days I still think I’m crazy. Especially eating out is a challege!!!

  13. I’m struggling at the moment to eliminate diary, soy and many more but nothing seems to help much. I found that I can sooth her by taking her outside and cold air kind of works. For a while at least… I’ll try more organized approach then.

    1. Ugh, Melissa – I remember those days. It WILL get better. I think it’s hard to get organized when you’re tired, isn’t it? I found the cool air helpful too.

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