How to Tell the Difference Between Common Feeding Issues

The first step is to know what to look for. Feeding issues can be confusing because so many different situations share similar behaviors, including fussiness, gas, and extensive crying. Read below and you'll better understand colic, lactose intolerance and a cow's milk protein allergy. You'll also see why they're so frequently misunderstood.

Is It Colic or Normal Crying?

Babies cry for a variety of reasons and it's often your baby's way of letting you know something is bothering him. Many times the cause is just mild, passing discomfort. However, when babies cry for extended periods of time, many new parents worry about colic. If your baby cries for long periods of time, even though he's not hungry, tired, or in need of a diaper change, there is a chance he could have colic. In reality, only about 15% of babies who exhibit colic-like behaviors truly deal with the issue.

Colic can be associated with the Rule of Threes below.

The Rule of Threes

Does your baby cry for:

  • three consecutive hours (usually in the evening)
  • three times a week for
  • three weeks straight that usually begins at
  • three weeks of age and ends around
  • three to four months

If you can answer "yes" to most of these general guidelines, your baby may have colic. Consult your baby's pediatrician, who should be able to suggest some ways to ease the discomfort.

Lactose Intolerance vs. Cow's Milk Protein Allergy

There's a lot of confusion between milk intolerance, more commonly called lactose intolerance, and an allergic response to the protein in cow's milk.

Cow's milk protein allergy affects an estimated 3% of babies and lactose intolerance is rare. While these conditions don't affect a huge percentage of babies, the associated issues can be dramatic. For that reason, it's important to know what to look for.

Lactose intolerance is the result of an inability to digest a natural carbohydrate in milk called lactose. This inability can also cause tummy upset. But this digestive issue is rare in infants, and unlike cow's milk allergy, lactose intolerance doesn't engage the immune system and cause allergic reactions like hives, breathing difficulties, or chronic runny noses and coughs. Try giving your baby Enfamil NeuroPro™ Gentlease® which has complete nutrition and is gentle on tummies.

Cow's milk protein allergy can happen when your baby experiences allergic reactions to certain proteins such as casein and whey that are naturally found in milk and other dairy products. Ordinarily, your baby's immune system helps keep him healthy by fending off illness-causing germs. But sometimes, a baby's immune system mistakenly reacts to things that aren't a health threat. For reasons that aren't clear, the immune system of a baby with cow's milk allergy sees milk protein as an unwanted and harmful invader. For protection, your infant's immune system releases chemicals like histamines to fight off the cow's milk protein. This causes an allergic reaction.

Cow's milk allergy affects up to 3% of babies and is a common childhood food allergy. Infants who have cow's milk allergy may react in many different ways to the proteins found in cow's milk.

Your pediatrician might recommend switching to a baby formula that's specially designed for a baby with cow's milk allergy. For example, Nutramigen® is a hypoallergenic formula specially made for infants with cow's milk allergy.

The main takeaway is that you should never hesitate to call your pediatrician with any feeding concern. Only the doctor can identify the real cause of your baby's feeding issue. The good news is that there are ways to address these issues so babies can continue on track.

Visit Our Allergy Center

If you have questions about cow's milk protein allergy, or other feeding issues, visit our allergy center.


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