Why Does My Baby Cry After Feedings?

Medically reviewed by Karen Richardson Gill, MD on November 19, 2015Written by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN on November 19, 2015
baby crying

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, along with a few other common conditions, might be the culprit if you too have a "crier" on your hands.

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 study found that mothers can misidentify their babies as having colic a large majority of the time, so it’s important to avoid quickly labeling your baby as having "colic" and trying to figure out what the underlying issue for the problem is. Even actual medical "colic" is just a catchall term that can have many different causes.

Acid Reflux

One of those causes of colic in babies is actually acid reflux, a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Now that my "crier" daughter is 5, she frequently complains of her stomach hurting and as a result, has 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?!"

He explained that acid reflux or GERD can manifest as colic in babies, stomach pain in school-aged children, and later as actual heartburn pain in adolescents.

If your baby isn't gaining weight properly, seems to cry more intensely after a feeding, and is spitting up a lot, you may want to talk to their doctor about being tested for GERD. While many infants spit up, fewer have actual GERD, which can be caused by an underdeveloped flap between the esophagus and stomach or a higher-than-normal production of stomach acid.

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, which can involve taking a biopsy of your baby's intestine or using X-ray to visualize any affected areas of obstruction.

Food Sensitivities and Allergies

Some babies, especially breast-fed babies, may be allergic to certain food particles that their mothers are eating. 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 breast-fed babies are thought to be allergic to cow's milk protein. The other most common culprits, according to the ABM, are egg, corn, and soy, in that order.

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 care provider about being tested for allergies.

Aside from a true allergy, there has also been some evidence that following a low allergen diet while breast-feeding (essentially avoiding those top allergy foods, such as dairy, eggs, and corn) may be beneficial for infants with colic in the first six weeks of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics also notes that certain foods, such as cruciferous vegetables (think: raw broccoli) and chocolate, have been linked to excessive infant irritability.

In our situation, I found that dairy, caffeine, and certain seeded fruit exacerbated my daughter's crying and spitting up, so by eliminating those foods 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, so 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. Just be sure to keep in mind that a true allergy is rare and be sure to monitor for any additional symptoms, such as blood in her poop.

Gas

If your baby is crying a lot after every feeding, it may simply be a buildup of air swallowed while eating. Bottle-fed babes in particular may be more prone to swallowing a lot of air during a feeding, which could trap gas in their stomachs and be uncomfortable.

In general, breast-fed babies swallow less air while eating simply due to the way they eat. But every baby is different and even breast-fed 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.

Formula

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. 

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