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Breastfeeding Mother's Diet and Colic

By Liji Thomas, MD

Colic in infants is characterized by regular fits of violent crying, sometimes coupled with other physical features such as furrowing of the brow, clenching of the fists or pulling up of the legs towards the belly. The baby is usually resistant to being consoled by ordinary means, but may quickly respond to being taken for a ride in a pram or car.

There are no other signs of physical illness, and the baby continues to put on weight normally. Strangely, the baby appears happy and peaceful except when the colicky symptoms start. Nevertheless, it is one of the most common reasons why parents seek professional medical advice during the first three months of their child's life.

Role of the Mother’s Diet

Both breastfed and formula-fed infants suffer equally from colic, which affects anywhere from a third to a fifth of all babies. Moreover, no hard and fast evidence is yet available to implicate any particular factor in the causation of the condition. However, some studies have suggested that modifying the mother’s diet may prevent or mitigate colic in some infants.

Exclusion of Dairy Products Derived from Cow’s Milk and Potential Allergens

Some studies have shown that when the mothers of infants who were being breastfed abstained from milk and other dairy products, the incidence of colic in their babies dropped sharply. This was confirmed by another study, which also demonstrated the reappearance of colic in a majority of such babies, after dairy foods were reintroduced into the mother’s diet. Many of these babies developed colic when their mothers were given whey from cow’s milk. Other studies have focused on the elimination of potential allergens from the mother’s food. These included soy, peanuts, wheat, milk and milk products, tree nuts, eggs, and fish. An absolute reduction of 37% in the risk of colic was observed in these breastfed infants compared to the controls.

Recommendations

When cow’s milk intolerance is suspected to be the cause of a baby’s colic, it may be wise to allow the mother to stop ingesting milk and milk products for a period of one to two weeks. Within this period, a significant reduction in the rate of colic episodes will confirm the advisability of withdrawing dairy products from the mother’s diet for a time. Such breastfeeding mothers should receive adequate support. Breastfeeding should be continued. Calcium and vitamin D supplementation (as appropriate for the state of the woman’s health) should be started immediately, making sure that the exclusion of dairy products is not leading to malnutrition in terms of calories or minerals.

General tips

In more general terms, it is recommended that women eat regularly and frequently, at least three meals a day with occasional healthy snacks, and plenty of water. Caffeine in coffee, tea, soft drinks and especially in energy drinks, may increase the irritability of the infant, and mothers with colicky babies may want to cut down on these.

If a woman who breastfeeds is on artificial sweeteners, she should check with a professional as to how much she can take each day without risk of its passing to the baby. Furthermore, strict diets during the lactation period and drastic weight loss should be avoided.

Some women find that avoiding cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and legumes reduces the incidence of colic in their babies. Since these are sources of essential vitamins, fiber and lean protein, it is important that these mothers substitute them with other appropriate foods.

Reviewed by: , MD, PhD

Further Reading

Last Updated: Nov 23, 2016

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