My second daughter was what my oldest fondly referred to as a “crier.” Or, in other words, she cried. A lot. The crying with my baby girl seemed to intensify after every single feeding and particularly at night.
It was those hellish hours between darkness and dawn when my husband and I would take turns walking around the house with her in our arms, praying and, mostly in my case, sobbing because we couldn’t console our baby.
I didn’t know it then in my sleep-deprived state, but my daughter’s crying after feedings wasn't that uncommon. In combination with her frequent spitting up, it was pretty much a classic textbook case of colic.
Colic, in technical terms, simply means a “crying, fussy baby that doctors can’t figure out.”
OK, so that’s not really the definition, but in essence, that’s what it boils down to. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) lists one criterion for colic: A baby that cries for at least three hours a day, three or more days a week, and is under 3 months old. Check, check, and check.
There isn’t one single known cause of colic. Even the actual clinical incidence of colic, estimated by BMJ to be around 20 percent of all babies, can be tricky.
One of those causes of crying after feeding and spitting up in babies is actually acid reflux. This condition is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) if it also causes significant symptoms such as poor weight gain.
When my “crier” daughter was 5, she frequently complained of her stomach hurting and as a result, had to undergo a series of testing with a gastroenterologist, a doctor that specializes in the GI system.
At our first appointment, the very first question he asked me was if she had colic as a baby and if she spit up a lot, to both of which I practically shouted, “Yes! How did you know?!”
In most cases, a diagnosis of infant reflux is simply based on your baby’s symptoms. If your doctor suspects a severe case however, there are several different tests that actually diagnose infant reflux.
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine notes that the most common offender is cow’s milk protein in the mother’s milk, but even a true allergy is very rare. Only about 0.5 to 1 percent of exclusively breastfed babies are thought to be allergic to cow’s milk protein.
If your baby is displaying symptoms of extreme irritability after feedings and has other symptoms, such as bloody stools (poop), you should speak with your healthcare provider about getting them tested for allergies.
Aside from a true allergy, there’s also been some evidence that following a low allergen diet while breastfeeding (essentially avoiding those top allergy foods, such as dairy, eggs, and corn) may be beneficial for infants with colic.
Strict elimination diets can have their own risks, so speak with your doctor before significantly changing your diet.
In our situation, I found that dairy, caffeine, and certain seeded fruit exacerbated my daughter's crying and spitting up. By eliminating those foods and substances from my diet, I was able to help lessen her discomfort.
If you have a baby with colic, you might want to try anything at all to help ease your baby’s crying. If you’re curious to see if your diet has any effect, you can start by logging your food in a food journal and writing down your baby’s reactions after each meal.
Next, you can eliminate one food at a time and see if reducing your intake of certain foods seems to make a difference in your baby’s behavior. If you hit on one you feel helps your baby to cry less, this does not mean they will not be able to eat that food in the future.
Just be sure to keep in mind that a true allergy is rare. Also, be sure to monitor for any additional symptoms, such as blood in your baby’s poop.
If your baby is crying a lot after every feeding, it may simply be a buildup of air swallowed while eating. It’s thought that bottle-fed babes in particular may be more prone to swallowing a lot of air during a feeding. This can trap gas in their stomachs and be uncomfortable.
In general, breastfed babies swallow less air while eating simply due to the way they eat. But every baby is different and even breastfed babies may need to be burped after a feeding.
Trying keeping your baby upright after a feeding and burping gently from the bottom of their back and up through the shoulders to work the gas bubbles up and out. Also check out this illustrated guide to burping a sleeping baby.
If your baby is formula-fed, swapping out the formula you use may be a simple solution to a crying baby after feedings. Every formula is a little bit different and certain brands make formulas for more sensitive baby tummies.
If you decide to try this, talk to your baby’s pediatrician about whether an elemental formula would be a good choice to try for a week. If you try one different brand and you see no change in your baby’s fussiness, continuing to try different brands is unlikely to help.
Colic, along with a few other common conditions, might be the culprit if you too have a “crier” on your hands.
If your baby doesn’t find relief after dietary changes or additional burping, then make an appointment to see their doctor.
Chaunie Brusie, BSN, is a registered nurse with experience in labor and delivery, critical care, and long-term care nursing. She lives in Michigan with her husband and four young children, and is the author of the book “Tiny Blue Lines.”