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Understanding Colic -- Symptoms

When babies have colic, they cry. Yet all babies cry. That's how they tell you that they're hungry, wet, or tired. So how can you tell the difference between your baby's normal tears and colic?

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.

It's the way babies with colic cry that's different.

  • Babies with colic start crying without any obvious reason. For example, they don't need to eat or have their diaper changed.
  • Often the crying begins in the evening. Or it happens at the same time every day.
  • The crying lasts for 3 or more hours each day and it happens more than 3 days a week, for at least 3 weeks.
  • Colic crying is louder and more intense than regular crying. It sounds more like a high-pitched scream than a cry.
  • Your baby may seem perfectly normal during the rest of the day when he or she is not crying.
  • Babies with colic are very hard to soothe. Nothing that their parents try -- including feeding and rocking -- stops their crying.

 

Colic Symptoms Besides Crying

Crying isn't the only symptom of colic. Babies with colic may also display these symptoms:

  • Arch their back
  • Clench fists
  • Bend arms and legs into their belly
  • Have a bloated tummy
  • Have a red, flushed face when crying
  • Pass gas during the crying episode, often because they swallow air while they cry
  • Tighten stomach muscles

Babies with colic still eat and gain weight normally. Weight loss could be a sign of another health problem.

When to Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if your baby stops gaining weight or loses weight. Also call your doctor if your baby:

  • Can't be partially soothed, even for a few minutes
  • Doesn't suck very strongly at the bottle or breast
  • Doesn't like to be held or touched
  • Has an unusual-sounding cry, or sounds like he or she is in pain
  • Has diarrhea or blood in the stool
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Is less alert or sleepier than usual
  • Is eating less than usual
  • Is running a fever of 100.4 degrees or more
  • Is throwing up
  • Might be sick or injured

Also call if you're exhausted by your baby's constant crying or you're afraid that you might hurt your child. Your doctor can help you deal with the colic so you don't get so frustrated.

Diagnosing Colic

The doctor often can tell whether your baby has colic by the symptoms alone. To make it easier for your doctor to diagnose colic, for a few days keep a written record of:

  • 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 the mother's diet, if your baby is breastfed
  • Discomfort, such as from being too hot or too cold
  • Fatigue
  • Hunger
  • Pain from an illness or injury
  • Reflux (spitting up)

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on March 09, 2014
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