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Colic Symptoms Explained

All babies cry. That's how your baby tells you she's hungry, wet, or tired. So how can you tell when her tears are normal or if they may be from colic? Here are some clues.

What's Normal Crying and What's Colic?

Don't be surprised if your newborn cries a lot. During their first 3 months of life, babies can cry for up to 2 hours a day.

If your baby has colic, though, she is more likely to:

  • Cry for what seems like no reason -- even when she doesn't need to eat or have her diaper changed
  • Start to cry in the evening, or at the same time every day
  • Cry for 3 or more hours each day, more than 3 days a week, for at least 3 weeks
  • Make sounds that are more intense than normal -- more like a high-pitched scream than a cry
  • Not be soothed, even when you feed or rock her

Other Colic Symptoms

Your colicky baby may also:

  • Clench her fists
  • Bend her arms and legs toward her belly
  • Have a bloated tummy
  • Have a red, flushed face when she cries
  • Pass gas while she sheds tears, often because she’s swallowed air
  • Tighten her stomach muscles

How Doctors Diagnose Colic

The doctor may be able to tell if your baby has colic from her symptoms. You can help. Over a few days, write down:

  • When your baby cries and for how long
  • What the cry sounds like. Is it high-pitched or louder than usual?
  • What seems to make her fussy
  • What, if anything, works to calm her down
  • How often and what your baby eats
  • When your baby poops, and what the stools look like (big or small, loose, or hard)

The doctor will likely do an exam to check if your baby is fussy for other reasons, such as:

  • Food allergies or sensitivities to something in your diet, if you breastfeed
  • Discomfort, such as if she is too hot or too cold
  • Hunger or weakness
  • Pain from an illness or injury
  • Reflux

When to Call Your Doctor

If your baby doesn’t gain weight or loses weight, she may have another health problem, so it’s best to call her doctor.

Also call the doctor if she:

  • Can't be soothed at all, even for a few minutes
  • Doesn't suck strongly at the bottle or your breast
  • Doesn't like to be held or touched
  • Has an odd cry or sounds like she’s in pain
  • Has diarrhea or blood in her stool
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Is less alert or sleepier than usual
  • Eats less than usual
  • Runs a fever of 100.4 degrees or more
  • Throws up
  • Might be sick or injured
  • Has fewer wet diapers

Don’t wait to call the doctor if you're at your wit’s end, either. The doctor can help you manage the colic, and that will lower your stress.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 27, 2015

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