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Should Breastfeeding Moms Restrict Their Intake of Dairy To Reduce Colic?

One mention of colic and you will be inundated with tips and tricks to help soothe your baby.  One of the most common pieces of advice breastfeeding mothers hear is to change their diet.  The most common diet change people suggest is for the mother to eliminate dairy from her diet.  

But is there any evidence that dietary restrictions, particularly dairy, actually help a colicky baby?  

What is colic?

Colic is typically defined as an infant less than three months of age crying for at least three hours per day, at least three days per week, for at least three weeks.  The cause of colic is unknown, but there are a number of working theories including gastrointestinal, biological and psychosocial influences.  It is generally resolved by 3 months of age.  

Do diet modifications help with infant colic?

The evidence for a breastfeeding mother changing her diet to improve infant colic varies, some studies showing benefit while others do not.  However, some infants may have Cow Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) and would benefit from their mother stopping dairy intake but the evidence is conflicting.

What is Cow Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA)?

CMPA is non-IgE mediated milk protein allergy seen in some infants.  Infants are often healthy and thriving, but may also be fussy and irritable.  They commonly also have mucous or blood-tinged stools.

CMPA is different than lactose intolerance.  Cow milk proteins examples are casein and whey.  Lactose is a sugar found in dairy products.  

A physician should evaluate your infant if he/she has blood-tinged stools.

Should I try omitting dairy from my diet if I have a colicky baby?

If the usual soothing and changes to feeding technique are not helpful in managing colic, a breastfeeding mother may consider omitting dairy from her diet.  This may be particularly useful if there is a family history of asthma, eczema or other immune disorders. 

A mother should omit all dairy products from her diet for 2 weeks as an initial trial.  If there is no change in the infant’s crying after 2 weeks without cow milk protein in the mothers diet, then mother can resume her normal diet.  The mother should ensure she receives adequate calcium and vitamin D from other sources when she has omitted dairy.

Remember that babies outgrow colic by around 3 months of age.  It can be a difficult time for parents and caregivers, but there is an end in sight.

This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.

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