Colic and the Elimination Diet

The difference between a fussy baby and a colicky baby, according to Dr. Sears, is that a fussy baby can be comforted when being held and soothed, while colicky babies are actually in pain and don’t respond to any sort of comforting. The term “colic” comes from the Greek kolikos, meaning “suffering in the colon.” These babies are hurting, not just high-needs.

So what can you do to help them?

If your baby is breastfeeding, you may have to sit down and think about your diet. The foods you eat affect your baby, and something in your milk could be causing his horrible tummy-aches and ear-piercing cries.

The idea of an elimination diet was developed by William G. Crook, M.D. (Detecting Your Hidden Allergies, Jackson, Tenn: Professional Books, 1987) and adapted by lactation counselor Martha Sears as follows:

The diet is based on eating the least allergenic food in each of the food groups. It can take up to two weeks for the offending foods to get out of your system, and bring your baby some relief.

1. For the first 2 weeks, eat only the following foods:

  • range-fed turkey and lamb
  • baked or boiled potatoes and sweet potatoes (with salt and pepper only)
  • rice and millet as your only grain
  • cooked green and yellow squash for your vegetable
  • pears and diluted pear juice for your fruit
  • Drink a rice-based beverage drink in place of milk on cereal or in cooking. Do not yet use soy beverage. (Rice products, such as rice beverage, rice-based frozen dessert, rice pasta, rice flour, and millet are available in nutrition stores.)
  • Take a calcium supplement.

2. At the end of two weeks (sooner if the colic subsides)  gradually add other foods to your diet, one every four days. Begin with those less commonly allergenic such as sunflower seeds, carrots, beets, salmon, oats, grapes, California avocado, peaches.

3. Wait a while before you add wheat, beef, eggs, nuts, and corn. Avoid for the longest time dairy products, soy products, peanuts, shellfish, coffee, tea, colas and other beverages containing caffeine, chocolate, gas-producing vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, green peppers), tomatoes, and citrus fruits. Vegetables and fruits are often tolerated in cooked form sooner than in raw form.

4. Keep a record of the foods you eat and the problem behaviors. You’ll hope to see a correlation between what you’ve eaten in the past day or two, and baby’s fussy spells. Writing everything down helps you stay objective, which is hard to do when you are sleep-deprived. This is especially important when baby has stayed fussy past four months of age.

5. Do not starve yourself. Although your choices will be very limited at first, you can still eat a nutritious diet. Eat more of the “safe” food until you determine what your baby can tolerate.

6. Older babies are often less sensitive to fruits and veges, so protein elimination is generally recommended. This means cutting out dairy, beef, eggs, chicken, shellfish, soy, corn, wheat, and peanuts, in addition to any other foods you suspect bother your baby.

The good news: Dr. Sears states that colicky babies usually respond to mother’s diet changes dramatically and quickly, often within one or two days. It may take longer with an older baby who is night-waking. Often , mothers will find that their baby may sleep better for a few nights only to start waking again a lot for a few days or a week, at which point the sleep again improves. It’s important to know this so you will not think “it isn’t working,”  and give up.

For more information on colic and tips to help you through it, visit Dr. Sear’s Coping with Colic page!

feature photo via Hug Your Baby

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