What is colic?
Colic is when an otherwise healthy baby cries or fusses frequently for no clear reason. It’s defined as crying for more than 3 hours a day at least 3 days per week for more than 3 weeks. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to relieve your baby’s crying. Managing colic can add stress to already tired or stressed new parents.
Colic can start a few weeks after birth. It’s generally the worst between 4 and 6 weeks of age. Babies usually grow out of colic by the time they are 3 to 4 months old.
Symptoms of colic
It’s normal for babies to fuss and cry. Babies who have colic cry more than most babies, even though they’re otherwise healthy. Other features of colic can include:
- Crying for no obvious reason. For example, if they’re not hungry or don’t need a diaper change.
- Crying around the same time each day. Colicky babies often get fussy toward the end of the day. However, the crying 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. 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
- Early form of childhood migraine headache
- Emotional reaction to fear, frustration, or excitement
How is colic diagnosed?
Your baby’s doctor can diagnose colic. They will do a physical exam and review your baby’s history and symptoms. The doctor might perform some tests to rule out other possible problems.
Can colic be prevented or avoided?
You can’t prevent or avoid your baby from being colicky.
Colic may be triggered by certain things. There are ways you can avoid these triggers. There are also things you can try to help soothe your baby and reduce their crying.
Feeding your baby
If you’re 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 in case your baby is allergic to them.
- Ask your doctor if any medicines you’re taking could be causing the problem.
If you’re feeding your baby formula:
- Try a different brand. Babies can be sensitive to certain proteins in formula.
- Try feeding your baby smaller meals but 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.
- Try warming the formula to body temperature.
- Try feeding your baby in an upright position.
Holding your baby
Babies who have colic can sometimes respond well to different ways of being held or rocked, including:
- Across your arm or lap while you massage their back
- Upright, if they have gas
- Rocking your baby in your arms or by using an infant swing
Comforting your baby
Try these movements and stimuli to sooth your baby:
- Provide extra skin-to-skin contact.
- Swaddle your baby. This mean wrapping them in a blanket.
- Sing to your baby.
- Give your baby a warm (not hot) bath or put a warm towel on their stomach.
- Massage your baby. Ask your doctor for guidelines.
- Provide white noise, such as a fan, vacuum cleaner, washing machine, hair dryer, or dishwasher.
- Give your baby a pacifier.
- Go for a walk with your baby in their stroller. Or go for a drive with your baby in their car seat.
- Give 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’re feeling this way, it’s 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’re 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 suddenly.
Questions to ask your doctor
- When will my baby get over colic?
- What is the best way to feed my baby to avoid colic?
- 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?
- Can I give my baby any medicines to make them feel better?
- What can I do to help myself from getting angry or frustrated when my baby cries?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.