What is colic?

Colic occurs when a healthy baby cries for more than 3 hours a day at least 3 days per week for more than 3 weeks. Colic can start a few weeks after birth. It is worse between 4 and 6 weeks of age. Babies grow out of colic by the time they are 3 to 6 months old.

Symptoms of colic

Babies who have colic cry more than most babies, but are otherwise healthy. They typically cry around the same time(s) each day. Colicky babies often get fussy toward the end of the day, but it can happen at any time.

Your baby may clench their fists when crying or curl up their legs. They might seem like they’re in pain or even turn bright red. When your baby cries, they can swallow air. This may give your baby gas and make their tummy look swollen or feel tight.

What causes colic?

It is hard to know the central cause of colic. Babies cry at a lot of things as newborns. Doctors believe causes can include:

  • pain or discomfort from gas or indigestion
  • hunger
  • feeling full
  • sensitivity to formula or breast milk
  • overstimulation
  • emotional reaction to fear, frustration, or excitement.

How is colic diagnosed?

Your baby’s doctor can diagnose colic. He or she will do a physical exam and review their history and symptoms. The doctor might perform some tests to rule out other possible problems.

Can colic be prevented or avoided?

You cannot prevent or avoid your baby from being colicky.

Colic treatment

If your baby has colic, there are things you can do to sooth them and reduce crying.

Feeding your baby

If you are breastfeeding your baby, keep track of what you eat and drink. Everything you consume gets passed to your baby and can affect them. Avoid caffeine and chocolate, which act as stimulants. Avoid dairy products and nuts, which your baby may be allergic to. Ask your doctor if any medicines you’re taking could be a problem. Try letting your baby nurse on one breast before switching to the other breast.

If you are feeding your baby formula, you might try a different brand. Babies can be sensitive to certain proteins in formula. Try feeding your baby lower amounts of food more often. Avoid feeding your baby too much or too quickly. One bottle feeding should last about 20 minutes. If your baby eats faster, try using a nipple with a smaller hole. This will slow down their feeding. You can try warming the formula to body temperature. Or try feeding your baby in an upright position.

Holding your baby

Babies who have colic respond to different ways of being held or rocked. You can try:

  • holding your baby across your arm or lap while you massage their back
  • holding your baby upright, if they have gas
  • holding your baby in the evening
  • holding your baby while walking
  • rocking your baby in your arms or using an infant swing.

Comforting your baby

Babies also respond differently to movements and stimuli. Other things that can help soothe your baby include:

  • providing extra skin-to-skin contact
  • swaddling your baby
  • singing to your baby
  • giving your baby a warm (not hot) bath or putting a warm towel on their stomach
  • massaging your baby (ask your doctor for guidelines)
  • providing white noise, such as a fan, crib mobile, vacuum cleaner, washing machine, or dishwasher
  • giving your baby a pacifier
  • going for a walk with your baby in their stroller
  • going for a drive with your baby in their car seat
  • giving your baby simethicone drops. This over-the-counter medicine can help relieve gas.

Living with colic

Colic can be difficult for parents. Babies who don’t stop crying can be hard to care for. Try not to worry if you feel overwhelmed or frustrated. Ask someone close to you to help watch your baby. Babies typically outgrow colic by the time they are 3 to 4 months old. Crying doesn’t hurt your baby, and colic doesn’t have lasting effects.

The following are things to keep in mind about colic.

  • You didn’t cause the colic, so try not to feel guilty.
  • Colic will go away.
  • Just because your baby has colic doesn’t mean they are unhealthy.
  • There are many ways to soothe your baby.
  • Giving your baby extra attention won’t spoil them.

Contact your baby’s doctor if:

  • your baby’s crying is mixed with a fever, vomiting, loose or bloody stools, or decreased movement
  • your baby’s crying or behavior changes all of a sudden.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How long does colic last?
  • What is the best way to feed my baby?
  • Should I hold my baby upright for a certain amount of time after they eat?
  • Is there a good position to hold my baby in to make them feel better?
  • What can I do to help myself from getting angry or frustrated when my baby cries?