Colic symptoms in breastfed babies and how to cope during this early phase of your baby’s life.
Elfin suffered with horrendous colic as a newborn, and it was one of the hardest times of my life; the stress, the worry, the guilt – the tiredness and fatigue I felt deep in my bones.
If you’re wondering a) can breastfed babies get colic, b) what do colic symptoms in breastfed babies look like, and c) can colic be a symptom of CMPA, the unfortunate answers are yes, it ain’t pretty, and most definitely.
As I write, we’re coming to the end of the second week of rediscovering our evenings. By which I mean we have finally, finally got Elfin to start going to bed at a reasonable hour and – crucially – not waking up again ten minutes later.
I’ve not spoken about it here too much, perhaps once or twice when I’ve been discussing relevant products; but if you follow me on Facebook you’ll be very aware of how the moniker I gave our second-born (Elfin Angel, to complement our Devil Pixie) quickly became a cruel joke – I dropped ‘Angel’ early on. Colic became our living hell for a very long time.
What Exactly is Colic?
Honestly, it seems rather like nobody is totally sure. One thing the initiated will agree on however is that colic is absolute hell.
The NHS defines colic as frequent episodes of excessive and inconsolable crying, for at least three hours a day, at least three days per week, for at least three weeks in an otherwise healthy and well cared-for baby.
Essentially, colic is an umbrella term for fussy babies when there’s no other diagnosis. And let me tell you – it’s brutal.
So What Causes Colic?
They say the exact cause is unknown, but there are many theories.
When Elfin was born I was under the impression that it was simply what babies do. During a hellish few months at the start of her life, I educated myself on the matter and think quite differently now, but officially, there are no definitive answers.
Symptoms are said to include bouts of intense screaming and crying late in the day, with knees drawn-up and back arched, suggesting digestive pain.
After learning more about colic I feel sure that it’s not normal and does have an underlying cause which can be addressed.
My belief is that colic is a symptom of something else going on, usually an allergy or intolerance. If you suspect this may be the case for your baby, I highly recommend keeping a food diary to help you track and analyse symptoms.
I created a breastfeeding and CMPA food diary specifically for this purpose, available as a free printable from the resources library, exclusively for subscribers.
Our Experience of Colic
During my naive stint as a first-time mum, I thought Pixie was a monster.
I was wrong; very wrong.
Had I known what lay in store with baby number two, I’m not certain I’d have ever found the courage to have a second child. In that respect I’m so glad it was an unknown, because otherwise we wouldn’t have our beautiful Elfin.
Following a wonderful labour – which may sound like an oxymoron, but I couldn’t have wished for a better delivery! – at just two weeks old our poor baby developed ‘baby acne’. At least I assumed that’s what it was, until a consultant saw her about something else and immediately diagnosed CMPA.
It was a diagnosis which would enable me to begin helping her and thankfully, following a strict dairy and soya-free diet, her symptoms quickly improved.
Nonetheless, she’s remained a very difficult baby and only now at nearly 16 months are things normalising. I hold my hands up to the fact we’ve allowed bad habits to form whist trying simply to survive during the past year, and we’re now attempting to fix those.
Colic Symptoms in Breastfed Babies
According to the NHS, the actual symptoms of colic include:
- Difficulty settling / they are not soothed or comforted by you
- They clench their fists
- Going red in the face
- Bring their knees up to their tummy and/or arching their back
- Tummy rumbles / very gassy
The symptoms Elfin exhibited included:
- Screaming (pain-induced, we believe) from around 7pm to 1am
- Bringing her knees up
- Going stiff through the torso and legs
- Could not be soothed and would not settle
- Angry CMPA rash on her face, ears, and creeping onto her scalp and neck
- Mucous nappies
- Severe reflux and vomiting.
This lasted until I eliminated dairy and soya from my diet, and thus from Elfin’s system.
Her milk rash cleared up and her symptoms improved drastically. But it was a miserable time for us, during which we were depleted of energy, yet each day we dreaded the approach of evening.
Many parents have exhausted all options when it comes to soothing their distressed babies – pacing, white noise, going for a drive – we tried them all. And as a small baby Elfin was even too poorly for a ride in the car – I’m talking multiple nightly changes of bedding and clothing following full feeds being vomited back up.
It was truly horrendous, and something I’m sure other allergy parents will be all too familiar with.
Why Do Breastfed Babies Get Colic?
Being breastfed can reduce the risk of allergy-related colic, but it is still possible.
Allergy reactions to dairy through breastmilk are relatively unusual, but it does happen in about 0.5% of babies. We were in that super lucky camp.
In the end, all babies will get past colic eventually, but you may find that none of the remedies do very much to help. If you believe your baby is in pain, or if they have gastro issues (such as reflux), I recommend seeking advice from your GP as there may be an underlying cause for which help is available.
It’s no exaggeration to say that until very recently Elfin’s bedtime has been a battle. And so has the rest of the night. Current improvements come at the same time as half as many nightly wakings: they’ve reduced from about six to around three.
This still seems a lot, but I can assure you it’s the difference between barely functioning and feeling semi-human. Reconnecting with my husband and having half an hour to just be before going to bed is also a massive bonus. Life feels good right now and I’m full of positivity, something I’ve really struggled with for the past year.