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Do you think you have a baby with colic? Let’s discuss what colic is in babies.

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Everything was fine in the hospital, but once you got home with your new baby, something changed. The baby is crying. A lot. Endlessly. Days have turned into nights and back into days and nothing you do for your baby seems to help end the crying. Is this colic? What exactly is colic and how do I know if my baby has colic?

With a newborn, emotions are at an all-time low. Parents feel helpless because they can’t soothe their child. Is their baby’s behavior normal? Is this what having a newborn is supposed to be like? 

Being a new parent is a challenge, but when you’re thrown a curveball like colic, it can be even more challenging than you realized. If your baby has colic, we’re here to offer help, comfort, and support.

What is “colic” in babies? 

There can be a lot of confusion about what colic actually is. Some parents think it describes any time a baby cries and others think it refers to a baby having an upset stomach. Colic actually describes a set of characteristics, with the most obvious one being prolonged crying.1

How long does colic last?

It’s important to note that colic is not a health problem and will eventually resolve on its own. Babies who are diagnosed with colic are otherwise well and should be eating and growing normally.2

How do I know if my baby has colic?

Crying in colic is described by the “rule of 3’s”: 

  • The baby cries at least three hours a day
  • The crying occurs at least three days a week
  • The episodes last for at least three weeks
  • It typically occurs in babies between 3 weeks and 3 months old

Crying is (of course) very normal for all babies. In fact, the average infant cries for 2.2 hours per day. The amount of crying usually peaks at 6 weeks of age and then gradually decreases. So, while all babies will cry (most of them quite a bit!), colic describes excessive crying compared to most babies.3

Colic baby symptoms:

If you suspect your baby may have colic, you can look for certain behaviors. One of the tell-tale signs of colic is a high-pitched cry. This cry can last for hours, and usually follows a daily pattern that often involves more crying in the evening.2 

A baby with colic may also have:1,2,3

  • Red face
  • Clenched fists
  • Legs bent towards belly

When a baby has these symptoms of colic, often anything a caregiver does to try to soothe them does not work.2,3

What causes colic in babies:

We know you want answers. You want to know the source of the problem so you can fix it and help your baby. Unfortunately, the cause of colic is unknown. 

There are some theories as to why some babies come out a bit more unsettled than others, but no one explanation has been found for colic so far. The cause of colic most likely has to do with a lot of different factors.

Parents are often concerned that tummy discomfort is the cause of their baby’s colic. Lactose intolerance in infants and excessive gas in babies are commonly thought to cause colic, but scientific studies looking at both of these ideas have not found any evidence to support them.1

Parents may also worry that their baby having colic is their fault, especially inexperienced new parents. However, colic is just as likely to occur in a baby being cared for by a trained caregiver as in one with a new parent. Colic is also not an indication that a baby will always have a difficult personality.3

Signs that crying might not be colic:

While colic is often the cause of excessive crying, there can be other causes (some of which are dangerous) that you want to look out for.3

If your baby isn’t eating well or gaining weight, has vomiting, diarrhea or blood in their baby poop, seems less alert or doesn’t want to eat, has a fever or can’t calm down after a long bout of crying be sure to contact their healthcare provider.2

Dos and don’ts for your baby with colic:

Even though we don’t know the cause for colic and there are no medical treatments, it can still help to try and comfort your baby in all the ways you normally do when they cry.2

How to soothe colic baby:

  • Check to see if your baby is hungry
  • Make sure your baby doesn’t need a diaper change
  • Rock your baby gently
  • Take a walk with your baby
  • Sing or play soothing music
  • Go for a ride in the car with your baby
  • Gently pat your baby’s back
  • Ask for help
  • Take a break

What not to do if your baby has colic:

What to do for colic baby:

Caring for a baby with colic is exhausting. And it can be easier than you think for exhaustion to lead to frustration. If you feel yourself getting frustrated or angry, lay your baby down safely in their crib and take a short break to collect yourself. You are doing a great job and it’s important to take care of yourself so you can take the best care of your baby.

Colic baby treatment:

There’s no real treatment for colic since we don’t know exactly what causes it. Colic isn’t a symptom of something else, or a disease that requires treatment, it’s more like a difficult stage that some babies go through before naturally outgrowing it. 

A trip to your baby’s healthcare provider is a must to rule out other medical issues. Be sure to call them right away if your baby has any of the signs listed above that their crying may not be colic. Your pediatrician can also help offer resources if needed.

Having a baby with colic can be very difficult. When you are exhausted, it can be hard to remember that your baby will outgrow colic. Be sure to take a break when you need it. You and your baby will get through this together.

Sources:

1- Colic: New insights into an old problem | Gastroenterology Clinics of North America

2- Colic | Nemours Kids Health

3- Infantile colic | American Family Physician

4- Dietary modifications for infantile colic | The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

5- Lactose-free milk or soy-based formulas do not improve caregivers’ distress or perceptions of difficult infant behavior | Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition 

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant's pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.
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The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant’s pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

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Meet the Author

Morgan Leafe

Morgan Leafe, MD, MHA, is a medical writer and editor who is double board certified in Pediatrics and Clinical Informatics with 14 years of clinical experience caring for pediatric patients and their families. She specializes in writing both patient-facing and clinician-facing material.