Friday, January 10, 2014

What causes colic?

As much as I hoped and dreamed that things with my second baby would work out differently than my first, unfortunately our little guy, August, has really struggled with tummy pain just like his sister did as a baby. The difference this time around is that I figured out the cause of this terrible pain. (Hey! It only took me four years!)

When August was teeny tiny it was apparent immediately that he was struggling with something. He had good days and bad days and when he cried he wasn't just making little baby whimpers - he had a full-throttle "I am in some serious pain" cry. I knew that cry all too well.

Doctors put this type of stuff in a pretty crappy category known as colic which to me just says, we have no idea what is wrong. Some of the literature on colic is infuriating. Here's what the Mayo Clinc has to say about it:
The cause of colic is unknown. Researchers have explored a number of possibilities, including allergies, lactose intolerance, an immature digestive system, maternal anxiety, and differences in the way a baby is fed or comforted. Yet it's still unclear why some babies have colic and others don't.
Maternal anxiety! Yes, it is 2014 and doctors are still blaming mothers for their baby's discomfort. Bullshit. 

I had been able to liberate my diet significantly during my pregnancy, after years of restrictions trying to support Ellie during nursing and then finding my own path with food. During the pregnancy I was able to eat goat dairy, eggs and grains. I was really eating whatever I wanted except for gluten, cow dairy and sugar.

August was only a few days old when I realized I needed to make some big changes to try to help him. First I went back off goat dairy and eggs, since those are both hard-to-digest proteins. My midwife discouraged me from making any big changes this early in the game, but the change seemed to help. I knew enough about colic to know that I had to cut out gassy foods like broccoli, cabbage, onions and garlic.

But we still continued to struggle. The frustrating thing, and ultimately a helpful thing, was that some days were so much better than others. Because I am so, so accustomed to tracking my own diet and my baby's symptoms (I can food journal in my head, in my sleep) I was able to start making connections. But the connections didn't make any sense. Why on earth was he fussy every time I ate cherries? Whoah! What the heck is wrong with me eating fennel? Hang on, why can't I eat apples? I knew chocolate was a no-no for colic so I tried something with carob. Crap, no carob wasn't OK either.

We really hit rock bottom when we flew to Denver to visit my husband's side of the family. I didn't pack our probiotics (because we no longer fly with a cooler of homemade yogurt and chicken stock like crazy people) so when we arrived I bought some Inner-Eco coconut water kefir to supply our daily dose of probiotics. And August was DISASTER. He was crying and impossible to get to sleep. WTF?

I continued to struggle along and we were having good days and bad days. What was so interesting to me was that August was seriously the happiest. baby. ever. when he was feeling well. Look at this guy:

He obviously didn't have a bad disposition or just enjoy crying and making everybody miserable (not that any baby does). He was capable of being happy and comfortable and I wanted so, so badly to enable him to be comfortable every day. I had been through too much already with Ellie. I needed to find the answer. I was on a bit of a mission. Maybe a little bit obsessed. As I identified and eliminated foods I could tell I was getting closer to an answer but I couldn't tie everything together and we were still struggling. 

When August was about five months old, I was fed up. Obviously this wasn't just some newborn "colic" that he would outgrow. There was something wrong with something I was eating and I needed to figure it out. I spoke to our nutritionist, who has been with us almost from the beginning, and she listened to my litany of foods I couldn't eat. "It's like I can only eat meat and carbs! And bananas. For some reason bananas are OK."

Andrea said she thought August might be reacting to foods that are high in FODMAPS (Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols - say that ten times fast!). This is the best list I've found online of what foods are high in FODMAPS.

As soon as I saw the list I realized this is the answer. FODMAPS.

High FODMAPS foods include dairy (lactose), fermented foods, many fruits, those darn cruciferous vegetables, onions, garlic and leeks, beans, wheat (not an issue for me, but interesting), honey and sugar-alcohol sweeteners like xylitol. Through trial and error I've found that August is insanely sensitive to high FODMAPS foods. Green beans should technically be OK but they weren't for us. I had miso soup with a tiny sprinkle of green onions and August was a disaster that night and in the morning his breath smelled like onions. Crazy.

Is this a problem with me, or with my kids? Since it happened with both of them it appears that the problem is with how I digest FODMAPS and then how that translates into my milk. But of course this is all a guessing game. How is it that millions of dollars are not being spent on medial research to figure out and cure colic? How much heartbreak could humankind avoid if we could understand this terrible thing?

What can a person on a low-FODMAPS diet eat? Well, meat and carbs. And a lot of bananas.

I have been slowly carving out yet another new diet for myself and trying to figure out how to creatively stretch a small number of foods into interesting dishes. And really we've just been eating very simple meals. Meat or fish served with a starchy vegetable or grains and a vegetable are pretty much all we eat for meals these days.

This has been very, very hard. It's impossible to put into words how difficult it has been for me to have to go on yet another extremely limiting diet while nursing. It's one of those frog in cold water situations. If you put a frog in a pot of cold water and slowly increase the heat you can boil him to death without him hopping out. If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, he will get his ass to safety in a second!

If you had asked me seven months ago if I would be willing to go on the diet I am currently eating I would have said not no but hell no. But the changes happened slowly over time and here I am, sitting in a pot of really hot water. And the only reason I am still here is because of love. Oh my gosh I love this baby so much. I would do anything - ANYTHING - for him. He has completely stolen my heart. And so here I am - right here in the pain and the inconvenience and the sadness of it all - again - because I love him so.

A month ago I saw my doctor and she took one look at me and told me I should wean. It's fair to say I was a mess. I hadn't been sleeping. My thyroid - we found out from bloodwork - is out of whack again and the Hashimoto's is back in business. My iron levels are low. My body is not absorbing B12. I'm a mess. Her solution was to wean. I had sacrificed enough already, she said. For some moms, nursing just doesn't work out. It doesn't make us any less of a mother.

I went home convinced that she was right. I had done enough. I could absolve myself and give up. Move on. I really tried living with the decision for a few days. The thought of weaning a six month old was almost unthinkable. I couldn't believe she had even suggested it. I researched homemade baby formula and balked at how much work it seemed to be. I found a place in town where I could buy it pre-made and made the decision to go buy some. Just to try it. See if he tolerates it. And that was weeks ago. I can't bring myself to do it.

Every time August nurses I look down at his face and hold the heft of his little body and I just can't imagine letting go. I know that mothers who bottle feed for whatever reason love their babies just as much as I do. Of course they do. But here I have this amazing gift - this child who chose me. Me! To be his mother. And he will only be a baby for just this short while. And I can't let go.

I have all my life to eat chocolate and kale. I have this day to nurse my seven-month-old baby.

It's a hard road and I haven't figured out yet what I'm going to do. I can't keep up with this diet forever. But I also can't wean him - it's too soon.


  1. Oh bless you! I just found your blog after searching "gaps intro baby reflux" and I'm so happy! I'm nursing a 12 m.o. and we both started intro 14 days ago. I was feeling frustrated at our lack of progress and that she's begun spitting up once a day now, which we thought was over, as well as have a mucusy nose, which is uncharacteristic. You've inspired me to keep better food records and take introducing new foods very seriously! We can't do eggs yet, but I went overboard on almond butter (so desperate for a new flavor and texture that we shared 3 tbsp with a bit of honey!) yesterday and feel crummy about it. GAPS is turning out to be so incredibly life consuming, but I know it will be worth it in the end. Thank you for blogging your good to know I'm not alone :-)


  2. Hi Rachel! I am so glad you found the blog! I really, really hope it is helpful to you. I totally sympathize with feeling frustrated with a lack of progress after 14 days but from where I stand - years later - I can see that it's a loooong healing journey you're beginning. Wonderful things will happen for you and your daughter :) My Ellie had terrible reflux as a baby and still gets it on the rare occasion. It's so hard to see your baby hurting and not be able to fix it immediately.

    I can also sympathize with GAPS feeling totally life consuming, and wanting a different flavor/texture to eat! What you're doing is so hard! Good luck to you, mama.

  3. Have you looked into SIBO? Cannot tolerate high FODMAPS...low iron and B12...tendency to Hashimotos. I am on a similar journey (on GAPS with a toddler on GAPS...looking at a recommendation for Ketotifen)...and a recent realization that I bet I have SIBO...and maybe then my toddler too. Would LOVE another baby when my first is healed...we'll see if it is in the cards. Would love to talk more.

  4. Hi Tanya - I'm not familiar with the connection between SIBO and these other things. Is this something you've read or heard from a doctor? I've had some gut health testing done in the past few years and never had any red flags about SIBO. I'm happy to chat with you or any other mamas who are sharing this healing journey ... I can be reached at I don't check that email super often so please be patient if you don't hear back from me right away!

    1. Oh dear Annie!
      Last time I checked your blog, you just got pregnant. Congratulations, what a handsome little baby boy! I was also struggling with feeding my daughter and though GAPS and other diets we after 4 years finally arrived at low FODMAPS diet that my daughter finally thrives on. The most helpful to me has been the research Monash University did on FODMAPS. They also released a free app for Apple and Android that exactly tells you what foods have what FODMAPS and through elimination let's you figure out which of FODMAPS are causing the problems. It's been really a great help.

      As for SIBO, the best test is either the breath test (your doctor can order). You can find loads of really great info on Dr. Allison Siebecker's site
      Good luck!

  5. Hi Jana,

    So glad to see you here again! Yes, FODMAPS were the missing piece of the puzzle for August for sure. It's a difficult thing to discover because it's not a very well-known thing. I will check out the Monash University App - sounds like a great resource!


  6. I just found your blog after a Google search because, like your baby, I believe my baby is unhappy and uncomfortable because of food issues. She's chronically constipated, gassy and as the days pass on with no poop, the reflux flares up. The ped says milk is milk and it probably isn't my diet, but I beg to differ. I've already eliminated soy and dairy. This week I took out gluten as well. I'm hoping it does the trick. I know there are certain people that think I'm crazy and nothing wrong and she's 'colicky' and just is growing so well there's no waste. But I seriously doubt after 10 days she couldn't have a bit of waste. I'd like those naysayers to hold it that long. Anyways, thanks for writing. Its hard to modify my diet when I don't know if it will work, especially after having food aversions for my entire pregnancy, but if it can make her feel better, I will do anything.

  7. Hi Jess,

    Thanks for your comment! I can testify for you that doing an elimination diet can be a powerful tool to help a colicky baby! My second baby has been so much more comfortable than my first (though still struggling with colic) and I attribute it to my being already gluten-free and soy-free and going dairy-free and egg-free right after his birth. I wish I had gone back off those things before he was born but oh well, hindsight is 20/20, right?

    A constipated baby is a very unhappy baby. It is silly to think that they would create no waste. Everybody poops, as they say! My first child struggled terribly with constipation and by the time she was a toddler we had to do enemas to help her poop, which was perhaps the worst experience ever. I don't know how old your baby is, but once our second baby, August, hit six months we started giving him chicken stock in a glass bottle once a day and he is very regular!

    I wish you all the luck in the world figuring this out! If you need a mama to bounce questions off of, you're welcome to email me at