Best Baby Formula for Colic
Colic is awful. Any parent who has experienced a colicky baby understands just how terrible it can be. Your baby is in pain; you are sleep-deprived; nothing seems to help; no one understands; and worst of all, it just won’t stop.
Obviously, something needs to change for your baby. And it just makes sense to try new formulas if your baby is bottle-fed. But which ones will actually help your child? We did the research, and it turns out that it depends on what’s causing your baby’s colic. There is no “one size fits all solution” here. But there are solutions. There is hope!
Here’s the short version: Your baby’s colic might be caused by gas, trouble digesting lactose, lactose intolerance, or a milk protein allergy. Each of these problems requires a unique solution, and we cover each of those solutions in this article.
Gassy Baby, Whiny Baby
One common cause of colic is gas. Gas can be painful, which makes babies cry. And when infants cry, they tend to swallow air. The ingested air results in more gas, which starts the whole process over. It’s an awful, colicky, vicious cycle.
Thankfully, there are ways to deal with infant gas troubles. We’ll look at some potential solutions that involve switching baby formulas. But first, you might consider the baby bottles you are using. Vented bottles can make a big difference if your baby is having gas problems. Most baby bottles allow your infant to swallow a lot of air, which can lead to gas. But vented bottles channel air away from the bottle nipple. This makes it harder for your baby to swallow the air, and gas bubbles are eliminated before they ever form.
We are big fans of Dr. Brown’s vented bottles (see our full review here). They do a great job of warding off infant gas. Plus, they discourage ear infections and preserve the vitamins in milk. We use Dr. Brown’s bottles with our baby, and we couldn’t be happier with the results.
However, for some infants, new babies bottles are not enough. In those cases, it makes sense to consider new formula. So let’s take a look at some of the reasons you might consider switching your baby’s formula and list off some of the best options available for your baby.
Problems Digesting Lactose
Believe it or not, sometimes babies that are not lactose intolerant still have difficulty digesting cow’s milk. This may seem a bit odd, but it’s more common than you might think. Milk contains a protein in it call casein. If casein is not digested properly, it can get into your baby’s bloodstream and cause inflammation, which ultimately means some tummy trouble for your little one (and probably lots of crying). Thankfully, there are two options for parents of lactose-sensitive babies.
The first option is reduced-lactose formula. Similac Sensitive falls into this category as does Earth's Best Organic,Sensitivity Infant Formula. Both of these formulas use sugar (sucrose in Similac Sensisitve and glucose syrup in Earth’s Best) to replace some of the lactose. Similac Sensitive calls it a “special carbohydrate,” but don’t be fooled by the marketing; it’s just sugar. That being said, many parents report that these formulas solve their colic problems, and it might be worth trying on your little child.
The second (and probably better) option for lactose-sensitive babies is partially-hydrolyzed formula. Popular formulas in this category include Enfamil Gentlease and Gerber GoodStart Soothe. Hydrolyzed proteins are easier to digest, which makes the lactose in partially-hydrolyzed formula gentler on your infant.
The science seems to suggest that partially-hydrolyzed formulas are the best way to to go if your baby has a lactose sensitivity. A 2008 study found that partially-hydrolyzed formulas reduced fussiness in colicky infants. The study was pretty simple: the researchers switched 77 “very fussy or extremely fussy infants” to partially-hydrolyzed formula and found that many infants improved after just one day. That’s pretty good. Similar results supporting partially-hydrolyzed formulas can be found in a 2006 study.
Simply put, if your baby is not lactose intolerant but still seems to have trouble digesting cow’s milk, try out partially-hydrolyzed formulas. There’s a good chance your baby will be a lot happier for it.
Unfortunately, some babies are completely and totally lactose intolerant. These are babies that have a significant amount of trouble digesting milk. These infants cannot produce enough of the enzyme lactase to break down the lactose in formula. Thus, they end up with upset stomachs and usually end up crying without end.
What you do about this as a parent will depend on the severity of the intolerance. Some babies might be able to get by with partially-hydrolyzed formula like Enfamil Gentlease or Gerber Good Start Soothe. If your baby only has a mild intolerance, this might be the best option for you.
However, babies with a severe intolerance of lactose might need an extensively hydrolyzed formula. Some popular brands include Nutramigen, Similac Alimentum Hypoallergenic Formula, Pregestamil, and Gerber Extensive HA. These formulas are hypoallergenic and designed for babies that cannot handle any lactose. These extensively hydrolyzed formulas are also often recommended for babies with a milk protein allergy.
Another good option for babies with a severe lactose intolerance is amino acid-based formula (also call elemental formula). These are hypoallergenic formulas made from individual amino acids, which are essentially broken down proteins. Popular brands include Elecare, Enfamil PurAmino, and Neocate).
Will soy formula help my baby’s colic?
A lot of parents swear by soy formula. And there is some science to back these parent up! A 2002 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics claims “Soy formula can be recommended as a first-choice alternative for infants ≥6 months of age with cow's milk allergy.” And a separate 2008 study similarly showed that switching to soy could help fussy infants. However, many babies with a milk protein allergy also have a soy protein allergy, meaning that soy is not the perfect solution for every infant (as some parents seem to think). But it could be a good alternative to the other formulas listed above for some infants.
Some popular brands of soy formula include Similac Soy Isomil, Enfamil Prosobee, and Gerber Soy. Gerber’s soy formula is unique on this list because it contains partially-hydrolyzed soy, unlike most other soy formulas. This might make the formula even easier for some infants to digest.
We cannot emphasize enough that we are not doctors and we cannot give medical advice. Speak with your pediatrician before making any final decisions about how to treat your baby’s colic.