Colic and Infant Formula

By Markita Lewis, MS, RD

Markita is a clinical dietitian with a passion for the biological, social, and cultural aspects of eating. She enjoys writing about nutrition and wellness, food justice and policy, cultural foodways, and the psychology of nutrition.


Crying is a common phenomenon among newborn infants. As their main way to communicate with the world around them, infants may cry for many reasons: they could be hungry, sleepy, dirty, or in need of a warm embrace just to name a few. Normal crying habits among infants peak around five to six weeks, and tapers down around three to four months of age. However, for some infants, frequent and long crying episodes may persist for months beyond what parents may expect.

This condition of excessive crying in an otherwise healthy infant is commonly known as colic. There are several ways that infant colic is defined but is typically characterized by the rule of 3 – crying for at least 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, for at least 3 consecutive weeks. The prevalence of colic is thought to affect up to one in five infants (between 5-19% of infants).


Colic in Formula Fed Babies

Despite being quite common, the cause of infant colic is still uncertain. Some of the symptoms of colic like pulling legs up to pass gas, tightening of stomach muscles, and stomach bloating suggest that one of the possible causes of colic is the diet. It is believed that the presence of allergens or lactose in infant baby formula may contribute to colic in babies. Other research suggests that components from the maternal diet getting into the breast milk is another possible contributing factor to infant colic.

Allergy to cow’s milk protein is one of the most common allergies among infants and young children, affecting about 0.5 to 3% of all one-year old children in developed countries. In the United States,over half of all children under 5 years with a food allergy have a cow’s milk protein allergy. 

The prevalence of this food allergy may limit the available formula choices for an infant. Many standard infant formulas use a cow’s milk protein as the main protein source (casein or whey). For infants who are found to have a cow’s milk protein allergy, infant baby formulas that are soy-based are usually offered as baby formula alternative.

While having a soy-based formula may be useful for some infants with a cow’s milk allergy, there is a chance that the infant may continue to have formula tolerance issues. Soy protein allergies are not as common as cow’s milk allergies, but still affects between 0.4 to 1.2%of children. Some children may have allergies to both cow’s milk and soy protein – research suggests that up to 10-14% of individuals with cow’s milk protein allergy also have an allergy to soy protein.

Even in the absence of a cow’s milk allergy,  the lactose or milk sugar present in infant baby formula may be a source of discomfort and colic symptoms. Some infants experience something called “transient lactose intolerance,” where they are unable to tolerate lactose for a short period of time due to immaturity of the gastrointestinal tract. This means that for some infants milk-based foods are making the colic worse. 


How to Prevent Colic in Formula Fed Babies

There are a number of feeding and comfort methods that parents and guardians use that may reduce symptoms of colic. 

  1. Give the infant more frequent, smaller volume feeds throughout the day
  2. During feedings, have the infant sit upright and use the appropriate bottle nipple size to reduce the amount of air swallowed that contributes to gas.
  3. After a feed, burp the infant to reduce trapped gas in the stomach
  4. Decrease stimulation in the room by dimming lights, avoiding loud noises and strong smells, and provide gentle rocking during crying sessions
  5. Provide a warm and comforting environment for the infant through embraces, warm baths, massage, or warm blankets.

    In addition to these parent practices, choosing the right formula that suits your baby’s individual needs can help reduce duration of and frequency of colic symptoms.


    Best Dairy-Free Infant Formula for Colic

    What are the best dairy-free infant formulas for colic? While more research on the causes and treatment of colic needs to be done, some research suggests that hydrolyzed formulas and soy formulas may decrease symptoms of colic among babies.

    Soy-based formulas are a common baby formula alternative to cow’s milk-based formulas and are lactose free. But, soy is not always an option for all infants.  

    Infants with allergies to cow’s milk or soy, or who have intolerance to standard formulas are fed with hypoallergenic infant formulas. Hypoallergenic infant formulas come in three types – partially hydrolyzed, extensively hydrolyzed, and elemental formulas. The “hydrolyzed” portion of the formula simply means that the proteins in the formula (usually cow’s milk proteins) are broken down – the more hydrolyzed a formula is, the smaller the protein sizes are, and the ease of digestibility is greater. In the case of elemental formulas, individual amino acids or protein building blocks are brought together in proper amounts to meet protein requirements in a formula.

    For parents looking for formulas that have a clean label and are safe for infants with cow’s milk and soy protein allergies or other intolerances, the choices available have been limited until now.

    Else Nutrition’s formula is designed to provide an alternative, organic plant-based baby formula to meet the needs for parents and their infants, and who require baby formula alternatives to cow’s milk and soy protein formulas.

    We surveyed parents to rank the top criteria in choosing a formula for their infant. A guarantee of all nutritional requirements for proper development, good and safe ingredients, and a formula that is easy to digest and tolerate were among their top reasons to choose an infant baby formula.

    Else Nutrition’s formulas are nutritionally adequate to support growth and provide a full amino acid and fatty acid profile, as well as all other nutrients needed for development. Our formulas have a clean label – with no added external macronutrients, are hormone, antibiotic and GMO free, and have a minor ecological footprint. 

    The main protein sources of our plant-based formula come from almonds and buckwheat, two gluten-free protein sources that are perfect for vegetarian and vegan households. 

    If your infant is experiencing colic, switching from a standard cow’s milk formula may improve your infant’s symptoms. Trying an alternative healthy, plant-based formula will help your infant achieve healthy growth and development with improved formula tolerance and less crying.








    The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.

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