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7 Common Questions About Formula and Colic

Wondering how best to care for your formula-fed baby? Think your infant has colic symptoms? You’re not alone! See what our expert has to say about the seven most common formula and colic questions.

1. What Type of Formula is Best?

The vast majority of infants are fed cow’s milk-based formulas and do very well. The proteins in these formulas are milk proteins, casein, and whey.

For the small number of infants who demonstrate an allergy or intolerance to these proteins, there are soy formulas which substitute a soybean protein for those found in milk. (Milk allergies should only be diagnosed by a medical professional.)

The lactose-free option is specifically designed for infants who can’t digest the sugar component of many formulas. True lactose intolerance, as is found in many adults, is rare in infancy. A severe bout of diarrhea, however, can temporarily cause lactose intolerance by damaging the lining of the gut. In this case, lactose-free formulas are used for a few weeks as your baby’s intestines heal.

As a starter formula, unless there is a strong family history of milk allergy, a standard milk-based formula is the best way to go.

2. Will Switching Formula Make My Baby Feel Gassy?

A few words first about colic: This label applies to babies who are usually between four and 14 weeks of age and who are fussy three or more times a week for hours at a time. Evening is the time when colicky babies feel the most uncomfortable.

Because there isn’t a proven physical cause, colic is a behavioral diagnosis. As a rule, colicky babies show good weight gain (they are often chubby) and normal development. For colicky babies, it often seems as if all the stimulation of the day needs an outlet, and crying is the only outlet. Of course, this is very frustrating for parents, and families try hard to find solutions.

Colicky babies are ultimately gassy, because babies gulp air as they cry, and trapped air results in gas. Simethicone drops are useful only in that they dissolve trapped air bubbles, but gas is often the effect and not the cause of colic.

Formula changes are common, too, and sometimes a new formula seems to help. But if the problem were exclusively a formula intolerance, the symptoms wouldn’t be confined to a certain time of the day. So, I don’t recommend switching to an elemental formula, which easily doubles your cost with no proven advantage.

What may help is changing your bottle system to one that allows less air to be drawn in during feeding (especially if your baby has troubles burping, too). A system with plastic bags inserted into a separate holder and a short, squat nipple usually accomplishes this.

3. Could My Baby Have Colic?

One BabyZone mom asks:” My four-month-old baby suddenly cries after his bottle. Is this colic or is he just still hungry?”

This doesn’t appear to be colic, as your baby is crying only after feedings (and especially not for long periods of time). Chances are that your instincts are correct—your little one might be ready to start eating solid food.

Two of the four “readiness signs” for beginning solids are already in place:

  1. Your son is roughly four to six months old
  2. He seems unsatisfied and “fussy” with his current diet

The other two signs to look for before incorporating solids into your baby’s diet are:

  1. Your baby has enough upper body strength to prevent himself from flopping to the side when secured in a seat or high chair
  2. He shows an interest in the solid foods you may be eating

You could try introducing rice cereal, mixed with his formula to the consistency of thin oatmeal, and serve it with a shallow-bowled spoon (the plastic-coated ones work well). Be sure to first talk to your pediatrician about the amount of cereal with which to start.

4. Switched From Breast Milk, Now Baby is Fussier. Colic or Allergy?

I can’t completely assure you that the formula isn’t responsible for your upset baby, but I doubt it is. Colic has not been linked to any type or formula. (However, switching from breastmilk to a formula can often lead to bulkier, thicker stools in the baby.)

Your daughter could be reacting the formula’s difference in texture, taste, or consistency compared to her usual breastmilk. This should be a temporary problem, only lasting a few days. If she continues to show any distress or eating problems, especially at this young age, you should give her pediatrician a call.

5. Is it Easier to Digest Powdered or Ready-to-Feed Formula?

If you’re wondering: “Is it easier to digest powdered or ready-to-feed formula?” Here’s a little more insight about your choices.

There are three formula preparations to choose from: ready-to-feed, concentrate, and powder. When reconstituted according to the directions, all three are nutritionally identical. There are slight textural differences (and perhaps taste as well, though they always taste the same to me) but most babies will accept them interchangeably and they are the same in terms of digestibility.

6. Can Soy Help Colic?

Can soy formula help our baby’s gas-induced colic? Gas is trapped air within the stomach or intestine. It is produced when a certain food or formula is not being properly digested or can also result from swallowing air (this often happens when a baby sucks inefficiently or swallows air as he cries).

A change in formula assumes that the problem is food/formula-related. If you’ve tried changing to soy and that hasn’t helped, (and if your baby is gaining weight and thriving in every other way), then consider the latter situation.

Does your baby cry a lot? If so, expect some gas afterwards. Does he eat ravenously and gulp a lot of air as he does? Then try to anticipate his hunger (as best you can) and burp him more frequently (after an ounce or two or five minutes on the breast). Sometimes changing the type of nipple helps to even a baby’s sucking, too. Shorter, squat nipples often help.

7. What if Baby Refuses To Eat?

If your baby suddenly refusing formula, it’s easiest to start with what not to do. Don’t turn the eating experience into a struggle. It’s frustrating for you and can create very negative associations around food for your child. There are changes you can make, but you need to work within his constraints.

Check with your pediatrician any time that your child’s feeding habits change. If your baby’s doctor reports that your little one is continuing to thrive by growing and developing on target, it is best not to worry in the short-term, especially since most food refusals are only temporary.

But, I understand that food refusal for many parents can be both frustrating and even frightening. And there are indeed a few things that you can do.

First, be aware of the amount of juice and water your baby is getting. Juice is never an essential part of a child’s diet, and too much juice and/or water can reduce the amount of the more nutritious formula your baby wants. Second, ask your pediatrician if your baby is old enough for you to enhance his formula consumption by mixing it with cereal. Lastly, if your baby is old enough, you can also add formula to his solid foods as well as increase the variety in his solid diet by adding a new food once a week. This may give you even more opportunities to mix in some formula.

If your baby’s refusal continues for several more weeks, have him weighed and assessed at your pediatrician’s office once again to be sure he is continuing to thrive.

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