Guest Blog from Ashlee Yates, Nurture Children’s Health

Colic or Reflux

Is it reflux, colic or could there be something else behind the crying?

Jump to:

    Infant colic is regular, excessive crying in an otherwise healthy baby. Colic is actually a process of elimination diagnosis, which means there’s no physiological cause to explain the excessive crying or discomfort and bub is otherwise healthy.

    A diagnosis of reflux means that the stomach contents are coming up to the esophagus, and the acidity of the stomach acid is irritating the tissue in the throat. This causes discomfort and sometimes pain, which can lead to extended periods of unsettledness.

    The term ‘colic’ can be used loosely though and is often used to describe tummy aches, likely from gas.

    A newborn’s tummy is brand new, and hasn’t really needed to do any work before. Milk feeding is (or theoretically, should be) the easiest food for an infant to consume and digest. Unfortunately as we sometimes find out, this isn’t always the case and little tummies can be easily upset, leading to symptoms of colic and reflux.

    What could be causing the crying?

    • Tummy pain due to gas
    • Reflux
    • Immaturity of the gastrointestinal tract, leading to discomfort when digesting milk, passing gas or stool
    • Tummy pain due to a reaction to something in milk
    • Over-stimulation

    Trying to figure out the cause can be tricky. Babies with colic cry a lot, babies with gas can cry frequently and babies with reflux cry a lot as well. In some cases, there may be more than one underlying cause for their discomfort.

    The lower esophageal sphincter is responsible for preventing the contents of the stomach from coming back up. Generally, infant reflux occurs because the esophageal sphincter is too immature to contract properly. In the same way that a baby’s muscle tone and strength is still developing, so is the esophageal sphincter. As babies grow and they get stronger, they spend more time upright and the symptoms of reflux begin to improve.

    The exact causes of colic are still unknown. There are theories, but many colicky babies have no clear underlying causes. Diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding may contribute to symptoms of food sensitivities, leading to colic-like symptoms. Caffeine, nicotine and some medications found in breastmilk are also linked to infant irritability. Full bellies and gas are unfamiliar feelings to newborns, and some babies may actually interpret these sensations as painful or scary.

    Symptoms of reflux

    • Spitting up or vomiting that seems to cause pain
    • Crying and irritability during milk feeds
    • Arching the back, pulling legs up
    • Poor sleep, due to pain when lying flat
    • Refusing to feed, or feeding frequently
    • Choking or gagging
    • Frequent respiratory tract infections and wheezing

    Symptoms of colic

    • Keep baby elevated where possible, for 20min after milk feeding and during feeding (consider baby wearing)
    • Elevate for sleep
    • Burp after every feed to decrease the amount of air building up in the stomach. Try tilting bub to their left to effectively move trapped wind
    • Keep a symptom diary to discuss with your healthcare practitioner
    • If bottle fed, bub may benefit from a slower flow nipple
    • Carminative herbs (such as chamomile, fennel, dill). Only use after consultation with a qualified herbalist, as carminatives may worsen symptoms for reflux babies

    Baby Sleep Foundations

    A self-paced course teaching you how to create & maintain baby sleep foundations. 

    Get 12 months access to:

    • 9 modules with over 3 hrs of videos
    • Downloadable resources
    • Further discounted 1:1 support
    • A members-only Facebook group

    Addressing the cause

    Differentiating between colic and reflux can sometimes be very difficult. Some babies can have both reflux and gas, which can involve different treatment approaches. Carminative herbs are used to relieve gas pain and help it pass. Colic drops and gripe water are common over-the-counter options to treat wind pain, but these can actually make the symptoms of reflux worse for some babies. When considering herbal medicines, professional guidance is always your best option to find the right care and support.

    Reflux in breastfed babies can sometimes be explained by a food that the baby is being exposed to through milk. Identifying and eliminating the offending food can help in the management of reflux. Very often, the culprit is coffee (even decaf), but could also be chocolate, dairy, spicy foods, or citrus. Other foods to consider include soy, eggs, nuts, wheat, cruciferous vegetables, or high histamine foods.

    Once the culprit is removed, reflux symptoms can subside within a couple of days. Though keep in mind that dairy and soy elimination may take as long as 2 weeks to see a difference. When breastfeeding, it’s important to be very careful when considering eliminating food from your diet. The very last thing we want to do is risk calorie or nutrient deprivation. It is not advised for anyone, especially breastfeeding mums, to undertake an elimination diet without professional guidance.

    For formula fed babies, we always review the current formula and if needed, begin trialing other brands of milk alongside digestive support. Different formulas can have varying protein ratios and ingredients. Just because one baby responds well to a particular brand, does not mean that another baby (even a sibling) will have the same positive experience. If changing formulas doesn’t provide any relief, we introduce herbal medicine and nutrient therapy.

    A final thought

    The use of evidence based naturopathic medicine can help to improve digestive function, soothe pain and finally bring some much needed relief. Herbal and nutritional therapy can be used safely and effectively alongside other healthcare modalities and pharmaceutical medicines, there’s no need to choose one approach over another.

    I realise that naturopathic medicine is uncharted territory for many families, particularly in the area of children’s health, which is why I offer 15min discovery calls prior to an initial appointment. If this article has done nothing but raise more questions than answers, please feel free to get in touch!

    Ash Yates.
    Naturopath (BHSc).
    Supporting children and their grownups.

    e. ash@nurturechildrenshealth.com
    w. www.nurturechildrenshealth.com

    Kelly Martin Sleep Consultant

    Helping babies get a good nights sleep

    Our mission is to empower parents with the knowledge and education about how they can help their little one develop and maintain healthy sleep habits. Are you ready to regain your sleep?

    Scroll to Top