What Is Colic: Symptoms and Remedies

Just about every baby — starting as early as two weeks — has an upset period sometime during the day for seemingly no reason at all. However, sometimes a baby's normal fussiness turns into extended periods of crying that go on and on and can't be soothed. These nerve-wracking episodes could indicate the baby has colic. Read on to find out more about colic and what you can try to help comfort your little one.

What Is the Difference Between Normal and Colicky Crying? 

Sometimes your baby will cry because she is hungry or tired, or because she has a wet diaper. But when she’s been fed, cuddled, or had her diaper changed, she will stop crying. 

If, however, she seems to cry for no reason, and continues to cry even once you’ve checked her diaper, fed her, and comforted her as best you can, she may have colic. 

This is what sets normal crying apart from colicky crying. With normal crying, your baby will respond to comfort measures and will stop crying eventually; with colic, your baby persistently cries and can’t seem to be consoled. 

What Is Colic?

Colic can be defined as bouts of intense, loud, and inconsolable crying, for no apparent reason, for three hours or more a day, three or more days a week, for three or more weeks in a row. These crying spells are likely to start a few weeks after birth, and may occur at any time of day or night, often between 6 pm and midnight.

About one-fifth of all babies experience colic. Baby boys and girls get colic in equal numbers, and breastfed and formula-fed babies are also similarly affected. The length of time colic usually lasts varies from baby to baby, but colic usually improves by the time the baby is about 3 months old, and it may pass by the time the baby is about 4 or 5 months old.

What Causes Colic?

Experts aren't sure what causes colic, but here are some possible explanations:

  • Acid reflux may be making the baby feel uncomfortable

  • The baby is gassy, and all that extra wind is causing discomfort

  • Sensitivity to overstimulation by things in their environment − crying happens when this new information becomes too much to process

  • Some research suggests that food allergies (to allergens the baby is exposed to in the breast milk or formula) or exposure to tobacco smoke could cause colic. Read more about acid reflux in babies.

Symptoms of Colic

It's natural to be anxious about your newborn baby's development, and to wonder about the difference between colic and normal crying. If you suspect you have a colicky baby, look out for the following possible signs of colic:

  • He extends his legs or pulls them up to his tummy

  • He clenches his fists while crying

  • He can sometimes seem to be in pain

  • He has a distended stomach and passes lots of gas. This colic symptom could be because crying babies swallow a lot of extra air, or because gas isn't released sufficiently by being burped after feeding.

Ideas That May Help Prevent Colic Crying

Many parents feel helpless and confused about what to do to help their colicky baby. Here are some things to try that could help limit or prevent crying before it starts:

  • Carrying your baby and providing plenty of skin-to-skin contact

  • Burp your baby after every feeding (To do this, hold your baby over your shoulder, and gently pat his back.)

  • Give him a pacifier to help soothe him before any crying kicks in

  • During breastfeeding or bottle feeding, sit your baby as upright as possible to prevent him from swallowing air bubbles)

  • If you're bottle feeding and your baby has colic, switch to a different type of bottle or nipple — this may help reduce the amount of air your baby swallows.)

How to Calm a Crying Baby

Once crying does kick in, these tricks can sometimes help settle colic in babies:

  • Rock your baby to soothe her)

  • Offer your baby a pacifier — sucking on this may help calm her)

  • Put her in a swing or a bassinet, as this motion can feel comforting)

  • Walk with your baby in a baby carrier, or hold her against your chest (Both the motion and the contact can be soothing.))

  • Place your baby across your lap, tummy down, and rub her back)

  • Play the radio softly, or turn on a fan or the vacuum cleaner to create some "white noise" )

  • Take her for a car ride because the motion and noise can have a calming effect)

  • Give your baby a warm bath)

  • Put a warm water bottle on your baby's stomach)

  • Give her a little space, as she may be feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated by lights or noises.)

Remember, sometimes your baby will cry no matter what you do. Experiment with different approaches; if one method doesn't work within a week, go with something else on the list. You might find that by the time you've tried most things, your baby will have grown out of this colic phase.

When Does Colic Typically Start? 

Normal crying typically starts when your little one is about 2 weeks old. When babies develop colic, it's usually between 2 and 4 weeks of age. About 1 in 5 babies end up with colic. 

How Long Does Colic Typically Last? 

Colic episodes can last for about 3 hours a day until your baby is about 6 weeks old; then, these episodes may get shorter and last about 1 or 2 hours a day until your little one is about 3 or 4 months old

In general, colicky crying tends to stop when you child is about 4 months old, but it can sometimes last until around 6 months of age

Coping With Colic as a Parent

When your baby has colic, it's important to pay attention to your emotional state. Caring for a colicky baby can be tough, and makes many parents feel anxious and inadequate, not to mention full of stress. If you find yourself feeling out of control and unable to cope with your baby's crying, ask a trusted adult to take care of your baby while you regroup. If you're alone with your little one, put her in her crib or another safe place and leave the room to take a break.

Other tips for dealing with the anxiety colic can produce include:

  • Ask for and accept help from family and friends who can take care of your baby for short spurts, giving you some much-needed time off)

  • Speak to your doctor about ways to help deal with the frustration of a constantly crying baby)

  • Seek out local mothers' groups or online forums for more tips and advice from others going through exactly the same thing)

  • Try to get enough rest and sleep)

  • Don't feel guilty about soothing your baby. You are not spoiling her. By holding and comforting her, you are trying to make her feel better)

  • Stay positive. This period will pass, and having a baby with colic does not mean you will have a difficult child going forward.)

When to See the Doctor

After sampling some of the colic soothing techniques mentioned above, it's likely that you'll know which of these ideas is most effective for your little one. Nevertheless, if his crying persists and nothing seems to help, it could be time to visit the doctor. Your doctor will be able to confirm colic, or provide information on what else might be causing excessive crying.

Seek medical advice if:

  • Your baby's lips or skin has a bluish cast during crying)

  • Your baby is vomiting repeatedly or is losing weight)

  • Your baby has diarrhoea, or has blood in her stool.)

Despite how you might feel when your baby is crying, remember you're doing a great job. Soon enough, this crying phase will pass, so just remember you can do this.

When you're ready, read up about what else could be useful to know about newborn baby care.

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