Colic is a problem that affects some babies during the first three to four months of life. It can be very stressful and frustrating to parents. Physicians have defined colic as prolonged or excessive crying in an infant who is otherwise well. The crying can be very loud and can last for several hours a day.
Colic may be related to a baby's temperament and personality, and those traits are known to be inherited. However, colic does not seem to run in families. Up to 30 percent of normal, healthy babies have colic, and boys and girls are equally affected.
Physicians are not certain what causes colic. There are several theories about why colic may or may not occur, including:
- Adjusting to each other – Parents and newborns may need time as they learn to communicate to each other. Until babies learn to talk, one way they communicate with adults is by crying. New parents may have trouble reading their baby's cues and responding appropriately. The baby may continue to cry simply because its needs have not yet been met.
- Temperament and adjusting to the world - Newborns must make adjustments to the world as they encounter stimulating environments, like spaces with lights or loud noises. Crying may be one way for a baby to vent feelings as they are learning to adapt.
- Oversensitivity to gas - Another possible reason for excessive crying in babies might be due to an oversensitivity to gas in the intestine.
A child who is otherwise well, who cries or is fussy several hours a day, especially from 6 to 10 p.m., for no apparent reason, may have colic. Also, babies with colic may burp frequently or pass a significant amount of gas, but this is thought to be due to swallowing air while crying, and is not a cause of colic.
The symptoms of colic may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Before assuming your child has colic, you should look for other signs of illness. These may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Not sucking or drinking a bottle well
- Drinking less milk than usual
- Becoming more irritable when held or touched
- Strange sounding cry
- Change in breathing rate or effort
- Being more sleepy or sluggish than usual
Call your child's physician if you note any of these symptoms, or if your baby is crying excessively. Your child's physician will examine your child to make sure other problems are not present that might be causing colic-like symptoms.
A physician will examine your baby and obtain a medical history. Questions might be asked about how long and how often your child cries, if you have noticed anything that seems to trigger the crying, and what comfort measures are effective, if any. Blood tests and x-rays or other imaging tests may be done to determine if there are other problems present.
Learning how to interpret your baby's cry can be helpful in dealing with colic. It does take some time for parents and babies to become accustomed to each other. Remember, babies will cry for a certain length of time every day under normal circumstances.
Other suggestions include the following:
- Make sure your baby is not hungry, but do not force feed if they are not interested.
- Change your baby's position. Sit them up if lying down. Let your baby face forward if you are holding them facing your chest.
- Give your baby interesting things to look at, like different shapes, colors, textures, and sizes.
- Talk or sing softly to your baby.
- Rock your baby.
- Walk your baby.
- Place your baby in an infant swing on a slow setting.
- Let your baby lay on their belly on your lap or on the bed, and rub their back.
- Go for a ride in the car. The motion of the car often soothes babies.
- Try using something in your child's room that makes a repetitive sound, like a wind-up alarm clock or heartbeat audio tape.
- Hold and cuddle your baby. Babies cannot be spoiled by too much attention. However, they can have problems later in life if they are ignored and their needs are not met as infants.
- Let an adult family member, friend or a responsible babysitter care for your baby from time to time so that you can take a break. Taking care of yourself and lowering your stress level may help your baby as well.
The symptoms of colic usually resolve by the time a baby is about four months of age. Consult your child's physician for more information.
Make an Appointment
If you’d like to request an appointment with one of our specialists from the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition, call 1.800.543.7362 (1.800.KIDS DOC®). You can also request an appointment online.