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!!