Am I breastfeeding wrong, is my baby colicky, or is it something else?
Some babies are mild-mannered and generally seem pleased with the world they find themselves in. Other babies, not so much. It’s not that they’re bad-tempered, but they do appear to have strong feelings about things. You’d think that a full belly would leave a newborn in a state of bliss, and many babies do pass out with a milk-drunk grin on their faces. However, some babies launch into crying jags as soon as they’ve finished breastfeeding. That leaves frustrated moms asking questions like:
- Am I breastfeeding my newborn wrong?
- Am I producing enough milk to satisfy my baby?
- Is my baby colicky?
- Is this baby trying to drive me crazy?
It’s a reasonable suspicion. A crying baby can certainly put everyone in the house on edge, and over time, chronic criers can leave moms, dads, siblings, grandparents, and even neighbors feeling helpless.
So what’s behind all those tears? Pediatricians recognize a few specific reasons your newborn may be inclined to tears after breastfeeding:
- Acid Reflux, and
- Food sensitivities and allergies.
We’ll look at each more closely below, but let’s begin with the more generic explanation for a chronic crier: colic.
To say that colic is causing a baby to cry isn’t very helpful to moms because colic is a catchall term that loosely translates to “chronic crying on the part of a newborn.” In other words, baby is crying all the time because baby’s a chronic crier. Not very useful, right?
However, there is a clue about your crying baby in the Latin root of the word: colon. In other words, if you have a colicky newborn, you have a baby who is probably suffering from pain in their abdomen. Let’s look at some of the reasons your newborn may be experiencing abdominal pain after breastfeeding.
We’ve all been there. Gas pain is not for sissies. You and I both have decades of experience with gas under our belt, so we know the feeling when it comes over us. It’s not so painful or scary because we’re used to it. Your poor baby is having their first experience of it, and it’s probably both painful and scary. Gas pain is more common among bottle-fed babies as they tend to swallow more air. However, even breastfed babies swallow some air during feeding time, so they still need a good burping after each feeding.
If you suspect gas might be the culprit, try this after baby’s next feeding:
- Hold baby upright after feeding to burp.
- Pat gently from the base of the back upward to work out gas bubbles.
This is another ailment that most adults have experienced but newborns have not. Imagine feeling acid reflux for the first time and not knowing what’s causing the pain. You’d be crying, too. You and I know that acid reflux is what happens when the contents of your stomach are pushed into your esophagus. To your baby, it just feels like they’ve swallowed fired.
Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) as its more serious form is called, causes spitting up in addition to crying, and it’s not uncommon in babies younger than one-year old. In fact, according to the National Institute of Health, nearly 8 in 10 infants have daily acid reflux by the age of 2 months. However, by they time they’re 12 to 14 months old, most children have outgrown GERD symptoms.
If you suspect acid reflux might be causing baby serious or chronic pain, talk with baby’s pediatrician about the symptoms as GERD can have more serious side effects like:
- Weight loss and
GERD can also lead to complications beyond the esophagus, such as:
- Coughing and wheezing,
- Laryngitis, and
Food sensitivities and allergies
About one in 100 exclusively breastfed babies develop allergic reactions to food proteins in their mother’s milk, according to research conducted by The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. The most frequent culprit is cow’s milk protein found in human breastmilk when mom has been indulging in dairy products. It’s important to note that this allergy occurs more frequently in infants consuming cow’s milk-based formula, which contains far more of the offending protein, than in breastmilk, where these proteins only show up in trace amounts. Occasionally, babies have allergies to eggs, nuts, peanuts, soy, or wheat as well. If an allergy is the cause of your baby’s suffering, they may also have signs of blood in their stool. In that case, head straight to the pediatrician.
If you suspect food allergies may be causing your baby pain and grief, let your doctor know and try these strategies for determining the guilty allergen:
- Keep a food diary to determine if there may be a connection between your diet and baby’s crying.
- If you find a food that seems connected, try an elimination diet (after talking with your doctor) to see if the change improves baby’s mood. Eliminate only one food at a time so you’ll know exactly which culprit is the offender.
How do I know if my newborn’s crying means they’re hungry?
Feeding a crying baby is often the go to for a tired, frustrated mom, but if one of the above issues is the problem, more breastmilk won’t help. So how do you know if baby’s crying because they’re hungry? Look for these additional signs:
- Baby is moving fists to mouth or sucking on hand,
- Baby is alert and active,
- Baby is nuzzling or seeking your breast,
- Baby is smacking lips or opening and closing mouth.
When baby is full, you’ll see these signs:
- Baby releases your nipple,
- Baby begins chewing on nipple or playing rather than feeding,
- Baby relaxes, opening fists.
Share the joy (and frustration) of breastfeeding with a partner.
Whatever the cause of your newborn’s tears, a colicky baby can cause frustration, depression, and exhaustion – as if new moms aren’t tired enough. If you’ve got a baby who seems to cry all the time, don’t be afraid to ask for more help from your partner, family, or friends. Pumping breast milk gives the people who want to help you a chance to take over some of your baby’s feeding sessions, which will give you a chance to rest, and you’ll need it if your baby is a chronic crier.
Need help choosing a breast pump? Milk N Mamas baby is owned and operated by women who have experienced the joys and the challenges of breastfeeding, including colicky babies. We have more than two decades of experience in the medical device supply industry, and our company’s history is rooted in activism on behalf of nursing moms. We’re here to help in whatever way we can, from deciding on a breast pump that meets your needs to filing your claim. Call today to speak with one of our representatives.