Understanding Colic -- the Basics

Crying is one of the main ways infants communicate. Your baby's loud wails let you know that he or she is hungry, wet, overtired, uncomfortable, or sick. Once you take care of the need in question, your baby should calm down.

Yet some babies keep crying long after they've been fed, changed, and cared for. Instead of calming down, they cry even more intensely. Sometimes babies pull up their legs and pass gas during these screaming fits.

Inconsolable crying, with or without gas, may be caused by colic.

As a parent, it's upsetting, especially when you've tried everything you can think of to stop the tears.

Colic usually isn't a sign of anything serious, though, and it's very common. Up to 40% of infants have it.

The crying spells should subside within a few months.

What Is Colic?

Colic is a term used to describe the condition babies who cry and cry and can't be comforted have. These crying spells often start when babies are around 2 to 3 weeks old.

Babies who have colic:

  • Start crying suddenly and for no obvious reason
  • Often cry in the early evening, although the crying can start at any time of the day
  • Cry for more than 3 hours a day, on more than 3 days a week, for more than 3 weeks
  • Sometimes have a swollen belly and may pull up their legs to their chest and pass gas
  • Are hard to soothe

Colic Causes

Doctors aren't exactly sure what causes colic. But babies who have colic may:

  • Become easily overwhelmed by lights, sounds, and other stimulation
  • Be more sensitive to a food their mother is eating, such as soy or dairy, if they are breastfeeding
  • Have trouble consoling themselves

Colic isn't an illness, although some babies do cry a lot when they are sick.

Which Babies Get Colic?

Any baby can get colic. It doesn't matter whether the baby is breastfed or bottle-fed. About the same number of baby boys and girls get colic.

Babies may be more likely to get colic if they:

  • Eat too much or too little
  • Eat too quickly or swallow too much air while nursing, which causes gas
  • Have an allergy to formula or to a food in their mother's diet if they are breastfed
  • Live in a stressful environment
  • Start eating cereal too early -- before 4 months

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At What Age Does Colic Stop?

Colic should go away on its own. In most babies, colic stops by about age 3 or 4 months.

But some babies will have these crying spells for 6 months or more. If your baby keeps crying for hours at a time after he or she is more than a few months old, your baby may have another health condition that needs to be treated.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on March 01, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Colic."

Cleveland Clinic: "Colic."

UpToDate: "Patient information: Colic (excessive crying) in infants (Beyond the Basics)."

Nemours Foundation: "What Causes Colic?"

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: "Colic."

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