I Cured My Baby’s Colic: Here’s How

There are few things more painful in the world than listening to your child cry.  As mothers, we have a physiological response to hearing the cries of our babies.  Now imagine if it’s your newborn baby screaming inconsolably for hours upon hours every single day. Or Maybe you’re like me and you don’t have to imagine.  If this sounds familiar to you, I just want to tell you I am so, so sorry.  I promise you are not alone, mama.  Through my blog and social media, I have met many, many mothers who have struggled through the pains of what the medical community calls “colic.”  I never thought I would be a mother to one colicky baby, let alone TWO.  I had never met a mother who had two “difficult” babies in a row so I thought for sure my second would be easier.  That reigned true for the first two weeks and just like the flip of a switch, it all changed. My first, Lily, cried constantly for over 7 months.  It felt like we tried everything and nothing ever worked.  So as soon as my son, Maverick, started showing signs of colic I went into solution overdrive.  I was determined to figure out what was going on this time and to stop his pain.  It may have taken us over two months to find the cure but we did it! We DID IT!  Literally just in time for us to save our sanity.

This was what we were dealing with for 5 plus hours a day

Let’s start by talking about Colic  

First of all, I actually hate using the word “colicky” to describe my babies.  I think it is the most USELESS word and it’s use gives healthcare providers a reason to give you the “oh, that is too bad” treatment. Because there is no “one size fits all” cause of colic in babies, the word is defined by its symptoms: three or more hours of crying a day for three or more days a week for three or more weeks. 

The Mayo Clinic lists the other symptoms of colic as:

  • Intense crying that may seem more like screaming or an expression of pain
  • Crying for no apparent reason, unlike crying to express hunger or the need for a diaper change
  • Extreme fussiness even after crying has diminished
  • Predictable timing, with episodes often occurring in the evening
  • Facial discoloring, such as reddening of the face or paler skin around the mouth
  • Bodily tension, such as pulled up or stiffened legs, stiffened arms, clenched fists, arched back, or tense abdomen

My kids didn’t just meet that definition, the little overachievers surpassed it!  Both of them were crying for over 5 hours a day and did so all day long, not just in the evening.  It always drives me crazy when someone says my kids were “fussy.”  This isn’t fussy, you guys, this is clearly a baby who is in extreme pain.  Because there is no clear cause of colic, there is no clear treatment.  For the most part, you’re given some basic options: eliminate certain foods from your diet (if breastfeeding), switch formulas, add in probiotics, make sure baby is eating enough, try reflux medications and manage gas.  So, what happens if none of that works?  You’re left with a screaming child who’s cries will make your heart sink and completely shut down your brain.  You will likely be extremely stressed, start arguing with your partner and worse yet your other children may suffer too.  If you’re like me and many other moms out there, it may even lead you down the road to depression.  After nearly 8 weeks of listening to my second child scream all day I was truly starting to worry about the state of my mental health and that is why I am so happy I chose to not give up the fight.  Sure it is exhausting to try all sorts of different things when you’re already overextended BUT if one of those trials leads to the answer then it is all worth it!

We always had a feeling, with both Lily and Maverick, that the pain was in their belly.  I saw an IBCLC (International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant) shortly after I had seen symptoms in Lily and she let me know I had EXTREME breastmilk oversupply. When her tummy was the size of a marble she was getting three ounces of milk in only 7 minutes!  We went through the steps of managing the oversupply but nothing seemed to work.  With Maverick, I saw the lactation consultant three days in (when he was still a happy little guy) to make sure everything was going well.  He had a great latch and no lip or tongue tie.  Unsurprisingly, the oversupply was back and as forceful as ever. Luckily, Maverick seemed to handle the milk better and she sent us on our way with new suggestions to slow the oversupply and a little supplement she recommended we start.  That supplement would end up being what changed everything for us down the road.  It was a little dropper full of lactase enzyme.  She told me to put one drop on my nipple for Maverick to ingest during every feed.  I did it for weeks but about 2 weeks after Maverick’s symptoms started, I gave up on them. I was doing everything I was “supposed to”.  I was pumping a little off before I fed him, breaking him off during letdowns, holding him upright after every feed, feeding on demand, taking him to the chiropractor weekly, massaging his belly, using essential oils, cut dairy and soy, spicy food, chocolate, caffeine and made sure he got enough sleep.

When Maverick was exactly 14 days old, a day after I had started a probiotic with him, he started his screaming.  Convinced it was the probiotic, I stopped it immediately but nothing seemed to change.   I took him to the pediatrician, who had no idea what to do so I asked her to refer me to a pediatric gastroenterologist.  The GI examined him and looked at his very mucusy poops and agreed something was wrong. I explained to her what was happening with my breastmilk and told her I was using lactase drops.  She told me she didn’t believe my oversupply was the problem and that the drops probably weren’t doing anything.  She said she was sure it was a milk protein intolerance and that I should keep up avoiding all dairy and soy products in my diet.  Well after 6 weeks of that, nothing had changed.  That’s when I started the Total Elimination Diet. Eating nothing but turkey, rice, squash, zucchini and pears for two straight weeks.  I even cut out the potatoes from that diet wondering if he could have been intolerant to those.   After about 10 days on the diet absolutely NOTHING was changing.  He had one day that seemed a little better but the next day was the worst day he had ever had.  I decided it was time to go back to the IBCLC.  I had suspected a food intolerance and it wasn’t that.  I suspected reflux and it wasn’t that.  I knew it wasn’t normal gas.  The only other thing I could think of was lactose overload (NOT lactose intolerance- there is a big difference, keep reading!).  The IBCLC had suspected lactose overload could be an issue from the beginning which is why she gave me the lactase drops.  Well, shortly before I went to see her again I realized that I was USING THEM WRONG. Ugh.  I didn’t realize the drops needed to be refrigerated!  When I went in to see her I described his symptoms and she said I was right to suspect lactose overload.  He fit the description perfectly.  I left that appointment armed with knowledge and new hope! Now I’m excited to share with you what I learned and how it could potentially help your little one!

Before you stop reading here and say “oh, her kid was lactose intolerant,” NO!  This is not lactose intolerance! 

 Lactose overload has NOTHING to do with the dairy a mother consumes.  

 Breastmilk naturally contains lactose with or without cow’s milk in a mother’s diet.  Lactose Overload can happen in overfed bottle-fed babies (both formula & breastmilk) and babies whose mothers have oversupply (like me!).  In the case of oversupply, there is a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance.  The foremilk is the less fatty milk that quenches the baby’s thirst and has a higher concentration of lactose.  Because oversupply breasts are so full and the hindmilk (fatty milk that makes the baby feel full) is toward the back of the breast, every time the baby eats he is only getting a belly full of foremilk. The fast-flowing foremilk has too much lactose for the intestines to handle.  Not only does the GI tract get overloaded but the low-fat milk means baby gets hungry faster which leads to shorter sleeps and more feeds which just makes the problem worse. It’s a terrible, vicious cycle.

Symptoms of Lactose Overload Include:

  • explosive, mucusy, smelly poops
  • bloating
  • gas 
  • fussing during feeds
  • excessive, inconsolable crying
  • sleeping problems
  • constant hunger
  • above average weight gain
  • large volume of spit up
  • grunting and squirming during the night

Maverick had ALL of these symptoms. Every last one.  He was definitely at the severe end of the spectrum which makes sense because I have more milk than the average mom.  Even if I pumped before I fed him, he never once emptied my breast, meaning he never got the fattiest part of the milk.  It seemed clear that Maverick did have lactose overload and once I learned more about it I was convinced.  Especially once I learned the condition is often misdiagnosed as a food allergy/intolerance or reflux because the symptoms are so similar.  It makes sense that so many babies don’t do any better when taking reflux meds or if mom does the elimination diet if the cause is really something totally different.  And just a reminder: my pediatrician and GI doctor never once suggested this could be the issue and the GI doctor actually discouraged me from using the lactase drops like the IBCLC recommended!

Here is how we fixed the problem in less than 3 days:

  • Pumping with a silicone handpump:  Just for 2 to 3 minutes to get out some of the foremilk.  (Pumping may seem contradictory when trying to lower supply but 2-3 minutes will not usually stimulate the breasts to make more milk)
  • Block feeding:  Feeding off the same breast multiple feeds in a row until the breast is empty or almost completely empty.  For me, this would take 4 to 5 feeds in a row.  Be very careful not to neglect your other breast during this time as it will be getting fuller and fuller.  I pump just enough to make them comfortable whenever it’s needed. 
  • Unlatching During Letdown:  This isn’t a necessary step but if you have a forceful milk ejection reflex it can sometimes help to unlatch your baby during your letdown and express into a towel.  It will manage how quickly they drink the milk and the lactose overload because the letdown has a lot of foremilk. You should be cautious with this technique if you aren’t an overproducer because your first letdown yields the most milk each feed.
  • Watch Hunger Cues Not The Clock:  Your baby’s constant hunger will get better just by getting more of the hindmilk during breastfeeds but you should be very careful to not overfeed. Most babies take longer naps and want to eat each time they wake but if your baby is only sleeping in 20-minute increments feeding too often can worsen the problem.  Look for hunger cues: gnawing on hands, turning head left and right, bobbing on your chest.  It won’t be like this forever and eventually, once the issue is fixed you can get on more of an eat, play sleep schedule.  We were able to do that within a week! (again, be cautious with this approach and consult with an IBCLC ALWAYS!)
  • Lactase Drops: The most effective thing we did was re-introducing lactase drops (correctly).  Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down lactose.  It’s a naturally occurring enzyme in your body but if your baby is getting an abnormal amount of lactose there isn’t enough lactase to break it all down effectively.  It gives me peace knowing that these drops are just enzymes and there is no “medicine” in the drops.  We got this brand from Amazon but there is another brand called Colief.  With the Seeking Health Lactase drops we give him 3 to 4 on a spoon before each feed and feed as normal.  And like I mentioned above they NEED to stay in the fridge.  You can also put the drops directly into pumped milk for 24-48 hours before using it or just give it directly before the feed as usual.  I use 3 to 4 drops because it’s pretty clear I have high lactose milk but my IBCLC recommends one drop on your nipple before each feed.  You can always start with one and increase if you don’t see a change. *My IBCLC warned many parents says each bottle tends to lose its effectiveness after about a week so it may be wise to stock up on bottles and replace them weekly.  Yes, this can be expensive but so is the therapy you’ll need when you start to lose your mind after the constant crying!

Many babies will grow out of this condition by 3 months (Maverick is 11 weeks) but because our first child was fussy until she was 7 months we are probably going to wean off the drops VERY slowly when we do.  The lactation consultant assured me there is no harm in continuing them!

Happy baby Maverick one week after we started lactase drops!

Well, that’s all folks.  Within 3 days I had a completely different baby. Night and day. Between feeds and sleeps he is now happy, smiling and cooing and has even learned to like tummy time. He caught a cold from his older sister which set him back a bit, especially with sleep, but he is slowly getting over that. We also switched him from the Rock N Play into the Snoo bassinet and are weaning him from nighttime paci use (because he was becoming too reliant on it and waking up constantly in the middle of the night) but I am excited to see how much better he will sleep at night now that his tummy feels better!  It has been just over a week and I can truly say those lactase drops were the best thing that could have happened to us.  I have never truly gotten to enjoy having a newborn because I was in a constant state of high alert and damage control.  This has made the quality of my family’s life so much better.  I actually cried tears of joy the first day the drops kicked in.  I couldn’t believe how different he was from such a minor change.  He is such a sweet little man and to think I would have never seen this side of him if he remained in pain every day!

I just have to say one more thing as a mother.  Never stop fighting for your child.  If you know something is wrong or you can sense your baby is in pain LISTEN to your instincts and don’t stop searching until you find an answer.  My baby suffered for 6 weeks with intense pain and I can only imagine how much longer it would have gone on for.  We are supposed to be able to rely on our doctors to help us make our children happy and healthy.  It’s a disgrace to me that so many pediatric doctors aren’t even educated about the issues that can arise with breastmilk considering it is the ONLY thing many infants have for at least their first few weeks of life. At the very least you would think they could have an IBCLC on staff or to refer to when feeding issues come up.  Can you believe a pediatric GI looked at all of these symptoms my son had and told me that the lactase drops were a waste of time?  It shouldn’t be up to mom blogger like me to alert parents that there may be a solution to their child’s pain.  If this happened to my baby and he was able to feel completely better in a few days then this is likely happening to A LOT of other babies.  Just something to think about if you are told you have a “colicky” baby and there is nothing you can do about it.

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions about this I am MORE than happy to help or make suggestions but please remember you should always speak with a healthcare professional (which I am not) before making any changes to your baby’s routine!

If you want to keep reading here is the most in-depth article I’ve found about lactose overload. If your baby is bottle and/or formula fe and you suspect lactose overload, check out the tips in this article!

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Comments

  1. Kellie Roos
    April 25, 2019 / 10:11 AM

    Katie– you’re such a supermama! I’m so happy for your family. I can only imagine how exhausting (mentally/emotionally and physically) this has been for all four of you! Thank you for your brave transparency and willingness to share your story and educate. You’re such a badass. Keep it up Mama!

    • Katie Levitre
      April 25, 2019 / 8:43 PM

      You’re so kind thank you so much!! hoping I can help another mama and baby going through the same thing!

  2. Samantha Murphy
    April 24, 2019 / 8:48 PM

    Thank you sooooo much for posting this! You have no idea how much great information you provide every time you share a post! I am currently pregnant with my first baby and am so worried about colic or having a “colicky” baby! I had colic as a baby and my husband was a whiny baby too and I’m nervous/concerned it will lead us to having a baby with colic too! But this post was GREAT! I will definitely be saving it! Obviously I have no idea if I will have oversupply or undersupply so having your suggestions and advice is so helpful! Thank you so much! Keep posting! You are definitely doing something amazing with this blog! 🙂

    • Katie Levitre
      April 24, 2019 / 8:54 PM

      Thank you so much for reading and congrats! No need to panic, most of my friends have sweet little buddha babies. I’m hoping you will too! Check out my last post about breastfeeding essentials so you can stock up on some products (like probiotics) that can help get the babe’s tummy on the right track from the beginning. If you run into any issues write to me on here or instagram and I’ll be happy to troubleshoot with you or give you suggestions!! Sending you positive birthing vibes!

  3. Monica Saucedo
    April 24, 2019 / 8:23 PM

    Whoa! That was exactly what we experienced with our lil one. Although I can’t have any more children I’d totally be prepared next time around. You’re simply amazing. #mamacakes88

    • Katie Levitre
      April 24, 2019 / 8:54 PM

      Thank you so much! I’m sorry this post was a little too late but hopefully it will help some other mamas and mamas-to-be!

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