Over the past thirty years, scientists have discovered several new problems that cause stomach pain in adults. I call these conditions “Big Tummy Troubles” because they are actual medical illnesses, not merely burps and hiccups.
As each new illness was reported, pediatricians carefully considered if it might occur in infants and explain the inconsolable crying that plagues so many of our babies. Two of these Big Tummy Troubles have been scrutinized as possible keys to the mystery of colic: food sensitivities and stomach acid reflux.
Some Foods May Be Hazardous to Your Baby’s Smile
If you are breast-feeding, you may have been counseled to avoid foods that are too hot, too cold, too strong, too weak, as well as to steer clear of spices, dairy products, acidic fruit and “gassy” vegetables.
Likewise, mothers of colicky, bottle-fed babies are often advised to switch their child’s formula to remove an ingredient that may cause fussiness.
Over the years, experts have considered three ways a baby’s diet might trigger uncontrollable crying: indigestion, allergies, and caffeine-type stimulation.
Indigestion: Are Garlic and Onions Risky or the Spices of Life?
Passing up garlic, onions, and beans seems reasonable to most people. These foods can make us gassy. But if gassy foods are hard on a baby’s tummy, why can breast-feeding moms in Mexico eat frijoles (beans) and those in Korea munch kim chee (garlic-pickled cabbage) without their babies ever letting out a peep?
Nevertheless, I do think it’s reasonable for the mother of an irritable baby to avoid “problem” foods (citrus, strawberries, tomatoes, beans, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, peppers, onion, garlic) for a few days to see if her baby cries less. However, in my experience, only a handful of infants improve when these foods are eliminated. Studies even show that babies love tasting a smorgasbord of flavors. So don’t be surprised if your little one sucks on your breast more heartily after you’ve had a plate of lasagna loaded with garlic!
Food Allergies: Why Couldn’t Babies with Allergies Just Sneeze Instead of Scream?
Allergies are part of our immune system, protecting us from unfamiliar proteins (like inhaled pollen or cat dander) that try to enter our bodies.
As a rule, if you have an allergic reaction you’ll sneeze, because the fight between your body and the allergens typically takes place in your nose. With infants, however, the battleground between their bodies’ immune system and the foreign protein is usually in the intestines. Your baby’s intestine is not yet fully developed. Her immature intestinal lining allows large, allergy-triggering molecules to enter her bloodstream like flies zooming through a torn screen door. Over the first year of life, your baby’s intestinal lining gradually becomes a much better barrier to these protein intruders.
For many years, doctors believed babies could be allergic to their own mother’s milk. In 1983, Swedish scientists proved this impossible. They demonstrated that babies whose colic improved when they were taken off their mother’s milk were sensitive not to their mom’s milk itself but to traces of cow’s milk that had floated across the lining of the mother’s intestines and snuck into her milk.
Please don’t be overly concerned about your diet troubling your child. As a rule, babies rarely develop allergies to the foods their moms eat. The two biggest exceptions to that rule, however, are cow’s milk, the proverbial eight-hundred-pound gorilla of baby allergies, and soy, coming in a not-too-distant second place (about ten percent of babies who are milk allergic are soy allergic as well).
I tell my patients it should come as no surprise that some babies develop an allergic reaction to cow’s milk. After all, this food is lovingly made by cows for their own babies, and it was never intended to feed our hungry tots.
Cow’s milk protein starts passing into your breast milk within minutes of drinking a glass. It reaches its peak level about eight to twelve hours later and it’s out of your milk in twenty-four to thirty-six hours. Fortunately, most babies have no problem tolerating this tiny bit of milk protein. However, sensitive babies begin reacting to it within two to thirty-six hours of consuming it.
Milk-allergic babies may suffer from a number of bothersome symptoms besides severe crying. I have cared for infants whose milk allergy gave them skin rashes, nose congestion, wheezing, vomiting, and watery stools. The intestines of some of my patients have gotten so irritated by allergies that they produced strings of bloody mucous that could be seen mixed in with their stools. Although blood in your baby’s diaper will raise your heart rate, it is usually no more ominous than finding blood in your mucous when you blow your nose. Be sure to contact your baby’s doctor, however, to discuss the problem.