What is colic?

Colic is when a healthy baby cries or fusses frequently for a prolonged period of time. If your baby regularly cries for more than 3 hours a day, he or she may have colic. Colic can start a few weeks after birth. It is generally worst between 4 and 6 weeks of age. Babies usually grow out of colic by the time they are 3 to 4 months old.

Colic doesn’t seem to happen for a clear reason. Sometimes nothing you do relieves the baby’s crying. This can be very frustrating for parents. Managing colic can add stress to already tired or stressed new parents.

Symptoms of colic

It is normal for babies to fuss and cry. Babies who have colic cry more than most babies. But they are otherwise healthy. Colic is defined as crying for more than 3 hours a day at least 3 days per week for more than 3 weeks. Other features of colic can include:

  • Crying for no obvious reason (for example, they aren’t hungry or need a diaper change).
  • Crying 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.
  • Clenching their fists when crying or curling up their legs.
  • Crying like they’re in pain.
  • Turning bright red when crying.

When your baby cries, they can swallow air. This may give your baby gas. It can make their tummy look swollen or feel tight. They might show some relief in symptoms after passing gas or having a bowel movement (pooping).

What causes colic?

Doctors aren’t sure what causes colic. Researchers have looked into many possible reasons for colic. Some of the contributing factors could include:

  • Pain or discomfort from gas or indigestion.
  • A digestive system that isn’t fully developed.
  • Overfeeding or underfeeding.
  • Sensitivity to formula or breast milk.
  • Overstimulation.
  • Early form of childhood migraine headache.
  • 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 try to avoid possible triggers. There are also things you can try to soothe 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.

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 less 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, vacuum cleaner, washing machine, hair dryer, 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 doesn’t cause any short-term or long-term problems for your baby. But colic can be difficult for parents. It can be hard to care for babies who don’t stop crying. You may feel overwhelmed or frustrated. If you are feeling this way, it is important to ask for help. Ask someone close to you to help watch your baby. Never shake or harm your child. Shaking a baby can cause serious brain damage and even death. If you feel like you might shake or harm your baby, get help right away.

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. Most babies outgrow it by the time they are 3 to 4 months old.
  • 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, such as holding them for extended periods, 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?