How do you know if your baby has colic or cow’s milk allergy?

Published by Reckitt Mead Johnson Nutrition on Nov 16, 2021

This article from can help you to understand the difference between excessive, unexplained crying caused by colic or cow’s milk allergy (CMA) and recognize main colic issues and indications to discuss with your doctor.

Could all that crying be signs of colic or CMA (cow’s milk allergy)?
All babies cry, but excessive unexplained crying in otherwise healthy and well-fed infants could be due to colic or an indication of a milk allergy.

What exactly is colic?
Colic is the medical term used to describe excessive, frequent crying in babies who otherwise appear to be healthy and well. The crying is usually very intense and tends to happen for at least three hours a day, for more than three days a week, and lasting for three weeks or more.

Colic Indications
Along with excessive crying for no obvious reason, other indications of colic in a baby could include:

  • Pulling the legs up to the tummy
  • Arching the back
  • Stiffening the limbs
  • Being full of gas
  • Having a tense, bloated belly

When does colic occur and what causes it?
Colic usually begins within the first few weeks of life but often stops by the time the baby is four months old, six months at the latest. It is relatively common and thought to affect around one in five babies. Experts aren’t entirely sure what causes colic or why certain babies get it but not others. Food allergies, like cow’s milk allergy (the most common type of food allergy in infants and young children), are one possible cause. Babies with CMA are likely to experience colicky issues.

Could my colicky baby have a cow’s milk allergy?
If your baby has cow’s milk allergy, they might show other indications besides colic such as eczema, vomiting, and diarrhea. Take a look at these issues for more information on what to look out for, and talk to your baby’s doctor.

What can I do if my baby has colic?
Having a baby in tears all the time can be exhausting and worrying. It’s important to remember that colic doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Looking after a baby with colic can be draining so don’t forget to look after your own wellbeing, too. Ask for help from family members or friends when you start to feel overwhelmed.

Here are a few suggestions to try for soothing your little one:  

  • Hold your baby in different positions – Try carrying him in an infant sling or front carrier on your chest as you walk around. The body contact and motion can be calming. To ease any gas, try laying your baby tummy-down across your knees while gently rubbing his back.
  • Play calming sounds – Recreate the soothing womb environment with soft music, a fan, or a recording of a heartbeat.
  • Use gentle, rhythmic motions – Steady movements are soothing. Cradle your baby while rocking in a chair, or try a vibrating infant seat.
  • Massage your baby’s skin – Babies love skin-to-skin contact, and you might find that regularly massaging your baby makes them less irritable and eases their crying.
  • Hypoallergenic formula – If your baby is bottle-fed, your doctor may recommend an extensively hydrolyzed formula designed for babies with cow’s milk allergy to reduce colic. In this type of formula, cow’s milk proteins have been extensively broken down, allowing your baby to digest the milk proteins more easily.

Talk to the Pediatrician
If you suspect your colicky baby might have CMA, make an appointment with your baby’s pediatrician and discuss your concerns.

Be sure to ask about possible food allergies that may be causing your baby’s colic, and whether you should try eliminating potential allergy-causing foods that contain cow’s milk protein. You should only make changes to your baby’s diet under the supervision of your doctor or a specialist.

To find out if cow’s milk allergy is causing your baby’s colic and other issues, your doctor may do some allergy tests and/or suggest putting your baby on an elimination diet followed by a food challenge.

Keep Learning
In the meantime, continue to learn about what could be upsetting your baby by finding out which foods have cow’s milk protein. Figuring out whether your baby is affected by colic or milk allergy can be essential to helping them deal with the issues they are experiencing.