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Colic Symptoms Explained

All babies cry. That's how they tell you they're hungry, wet, or tired. So how can you tell the difference between your baby's normal tears and colic? Here are some clues.

What's Normal Crying and What's Colic?

It's perfectly normal for a newborn to cry a lot. During their first 3 months of life, babies can cry for up to 2 hours a day.

But babies with colic have different habits. They usually:

  • Cry for what seems like no reason -- even when they don’t need to eat or have their 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
  • Seem perfectly normal when they’re not in tears
  • Can’t be soothed --  even feeding and rocking won't stop the outbursts

 

Other Colic Symptoms

Crying isn't the only thing a colicky baby does. He might also:

  • Arch his back
  • Clench his fists
  • Bend his arms and legs into his belly
  • Have a bloated tummy
  • Have a red, flushed face when crying
  • Pass gas during the crying, often because he’s swallowed air
  • Tighten his stomach muscles

When to Call Your Doctor

Babies with colic still eat and gain weight normally. Weight loss could be a sign of another health problem. Call your doctor if your baby stops gaining weight or loses weight.

Also call the doctor if your baby:

  • Can't be partially soothed, even for a few minutes
  • Doesn't suck strongly at the bottle or breast
  • Doesn't like to be held or touched
  • Has an odd cry, or sounds like he’s in pain
  • Has diarrhea or blood in his 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.

Diagnosing Colic

The doctor may be able to tell if your baby has colic by the symptoms alone. 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 trigger the crying spells
  • What, if anything, works to calm down your baby
  • How often your baby eats and what types of foods
  • How often your baby has a bowel movement, and what the bowel movements look like (big or small, loose or hard)

The doctor will probably do an exam to check for other possible causes for your baby's fussiness, such as:

  • An allergy or sensitivity to a food in your diet, if you’re breastfeeding
  • Discomfort, such as from being too hot or too cold
  • Weakness or hunger
  • Pain from an illness or injury
  • Reflux (spitting up)

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on June 04, 2014

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