Expert Q&A: Crying and Colic

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 27, 2015
mother and baby

Why is my baby crying? Could it be colic? What can I do? These are questions just about every new parent has.

To get the answers, WebMD spoke with Renee A. Alli, MD, a mother and pediatrician in Dunwoody, GA. Here, Alli explains the ups and downs of fussy babies, including what may rev up your infant's tears and calm him down.

Yes. Since colic usually starts at around 3 weeks, your infant's 1-month checkup is a perfect time to discuss it. But call the pediatrician anytime if crying increases or your baby seems to spend more time cranky than happy. There may be another reason.

Also talk to the pediatrician or your OB/GYN if you feel anxious or overwhelmed or are having trouble comforting your baby.

If your baby ever stops breathing or their skin changes color when they are crying, call 911.

Over time, your baby will develop their own rhythm of crying, feeding, sleeping, and playing, and you will learn to interpret the different cries. But they may still have variations in their schedule that include moments of hard crying. Although it may sometimes be exhausting and stressful for you, remember that crying is not dangerous and can't hurt your child.

Colic is when your infant is inconsolable and cries intensely for several hours a day. Episodes of crying may happen at a regular time of day and about 3-5 times a week.

It starts when infants are about 3 weeks old and ends at about 3 months, when they are better able to soothe themselves.

It all depends on your baby. These things often help:

  • A snug swaddle: Your infant may feel more secure when they are wrapped up snugly.
  • White noise: Surprisingly, loud sounds like a vacuum calm some babies. Or your baby may like repetitive or rhythmic sounds, such as radio static, a running shower, a white noise machine, or a washing machine. Just remember that a washer or dryer can provide soothing background noise, but never place your baby on top of one.
  • A different position: Hold your baby on their side and give them a pacifier or your finger to suck. The sucking may soothe them. Or lay their tummy-down across your knees and rub their back.
  • Movement: Take your baby out in a stroller or carrier for a walk.

Keep in mind that your colicky baby may not respond to any calming methods! If you've tried different strategies or suddenly what worked last week isn't working now -- and you feel overwhelmed -- it's OK to take a break. Put your baby in a safe place like a crib, car seat, or swing and get away for a few minutes.

Babies can be fussy whether they breastfeed or bottle-feed. If you breastfeed, caffeine or dairy products in your diet may irritate your baby's stomach. On the other hand, milk protein in baby formula can cause tummy distress in the early weeks of life. If you want to limit foods in your diet or make other feeding changes, discuss it with your pediatrician.