Colic in Babies

What Is Colic?

Colic is when an infant who isn’t sick or hungry cries for more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week, for more than 3 weeks. The condition is a bit of a mystery, but experts agree on a few things:

  • Colic is likely to start around 2 weeks of age if your infant is full-term, or later if they were born prematurely.
  • It almost always goes away on its own by 3 or 4 months of age.
  • It can happen regardless of your baby's sex, their birth order, and whether you breast- or bottle-feed.
  • Kids who had colic grow up no differently from those who didn’t.

Colic Causes

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes colic. Some theories about what’s behind it include:

  • A growing digestive system with muscles that often spasm
  • Gas
  • Hormones that cause belly pain or crankiness
  • A sensitivity to light, noise, etc., or too much stimulation
  • A developing nervous system
  • An early form of childhood migraine
  • Fear, frustration, or excitement

Many health conditions can look like colic. If you're worried about your baby, your doctor can do a full exam to rule out problems such as:

Colic Symptoms

Infants often show signs of colic at the same time every day, usually in the evening. You might notice that your child cries:

  • With no clear reason (such as hunger or a dirty diaper)
  • Like they’re in pain
  • Along with clenched fists, stiff arms, an arched back, or curled legs
  • While turning bright red

Your child might swallow a lot of air while they’re crying. This can give them gas and make their belly tight or swollen.

Colic Diagnosis

There’s no test for colic. Your baby’s doctor will ask about their symptoms and medical history. The doctor will do a physical exam, focusing on things like:

They might order some tests to rule out other problems.

Continued

Colic Treatment

Because there’s no clear cause of colic, there’s no one treatment. Your child’s doctor will recommend some things that might calm them down. Try them one at a time. If one doesn’t work after a few days, try another.

Colic will get better on its own. You may just have to wait for the fussiness to improve when your baby is about 4 months old.

Some steps to soothe your infant include:

  • Make sure they aren’t hungry.
  • If you’re breastfeeding, ask your doctor whether the medications you take or the food you eat might cause irritation or an allergic reaction in your child.
  • Change their body position. Have them sit up or lie down. Hold them while you walk around. Rock them or massage their back.
  • Use a pacifier.
  • Swaddle your baby.
  • Hold them with their bare skin against your own.
  • Use white noise (like a fan, washing machine, or dishwasher) or a recording of a heartbeat.
  • Take them for a car ride.
  • Put them in a swing or vibrating seat.

Parent Self-Care for Colic Stress

A baby with colic can be a challenge. Many parents feel overwhelmed, angry, or resentful toward a cranky child. These feelings don’t make you a bad parent. Remember that you didn’t cause the colic and that it will get better.

It’s OK to put your baby in a crib or playpen for 10 minutes or so while you leave the room to collect yourself. Ask friends, family, or babysitters for help if you need a break. Lowering your own stress level will help your baby, too.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 16, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics: A Handbook for Primary Care. Parker, S., Zuckerman, B. and Augustyn, M. (eds), Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2005.

KidsHealth: “Your Colicky Baby,” "Colic."

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Colic.”

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “Colic and Gas.”

American Family Physician: “Infantile Colic.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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