How can I breastfeed a baby with colic?

Colic can be frustrating for parents and exhausting for babies but is rarely cause for weaning. In fact, switching a colicky baby from breastfeeding to infant formula can make the symptoms worse. 

Many babies have short, fussy periods each day, but 10 to 20 percent of babies will have days, or even weeks, when they cry inconsolably for many hours each day for no clear reason. Crying spells can occur at any time, but are most common in the evening. Colicky babies often show signs of gastrointestinal distress, such as altered posture (extending or pulling up their legs), gas, and swollen stomach (distended with gas).

There is no clear explanation for colic. (You can read more about colic on baby gooroo here.) Colic usually appears around 2-4 weeks of age and disappears by the baby’s third or fourth month, but it may last until 6 months of age. Time may be the only solution, but if your baby has colic, here are some things you can do that may improve the situation: 

  • Offer one breast at each feeding. The result will be a low-volume, low-sugar, high-fat meal rather than a high-volume, high-sugar, low-fat meal. Sugar produces more gas and may trigger colicky behaviors. This approach can also help prevent overfeeding. 
  • Burp your baby often. Pause mid-feeding to burp your baby, using a combination of gentle pats and strokes on his back. 
  • Make dietary changes. If your baby is consuming any infant formula, avoid those with cow’s milk. Eliminate potentially irritating foods from your diet as well, including milk products, eggs, nuts, and wheat. Some mothers also eliminate caffeine and spicy or gassy foods, like onions and cabbage. 
  • Use a baby carrier or sling. Being snuggled against your body and feeling the motion of your movement can provide some comfort to your baby, even if his discomfort persists. In cultures where babies are carried in slings for much of the day, colic is rare. To learn more about breastfeeding in a carrier, click here
  • Use “white noise” during feedings. Constant sounds or vibrations may help. Some babies are soothed by the sound of a fan or a white noise machine (or app).
  • Massage your infant before a feeding. Gentle massage may help calm your baby. Try clockwise motions on his tummy or lay him tummy-down across your knees and gently pat his back. 

No one knows why some babies have colic while others don’t, and no parent anticipates having a colicky baby. But rest assured you’re not alone. The weeks of colic may feel like years, but soon your baby will be through this phase and onto the next—sitting, crawling, talking, walking, and more.

Last updated July 11, 2020

Suggested Reads