What Is Colic? Causes, Symptoms & Remedies

Colic in Babies: Symptoms, Possible Causes & 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-racking episodes could indicate the baby has colic. Read on to find out more about colic, and what you could try to help comfort your little one.

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 begin between the second and fourth week, 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. This intense crying is usually at its worst in a baby’s second and third months, but the length of time colic usually lasts varies from baby to baby. Colic usually passes by the time the baby is about 6 months old.

What Causes Colic?

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

  • The baby’s digestive system is still developing, causing discomfort that the baby communicates by crying.
  • Acid reflux may be making the baby feel uncomfortable.
  • The baby is gassy, and all that extra wind is causing discomfort.
  • Young babies can get overstimulated by their environment towards the end of the day and 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.

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 arches his back while crying
  • He flails his arms and legs while crying
  • He has a red or flushed face while crying
  • 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:

  • Studies have shown that carrying your baby and plenty of skin-on-skin contact in the first few weeks of your newborn's life can help limit the duration of crying spells as he gets older.
  • Feed your baby whenever he seems hungry, not necessarily on a set feeding schedule.
  • Burp your baby after every feeding. To do this, hold your baby over your shoulder, and gently pat his back.
  • Give him a dummy to help soothe him before any crying kicks in.
  • During breastfeeding or bottle feeding, sit your baby as upright as possible to prevent him 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 might help settle colic in babies:

  • Rock your baby to soothe her.
  • Offer your baby a dummy – 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, or turn on a fan or the vacuum cleaner to create some ‘white noise’.
  • Take your baby for a car ride, the motion and noise have a calming effect.
  • Give her a warm bath.
  • Give her a little space, as she may be feeling overwhelmed.

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.

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. Some tips for dealing with the anxiety include:

  • Ask for and accept help from your 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 more 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.

Mum and dad, despite how you might feel when your baby is crying, remember you’re doing a great job. Soon enough this crying phase will pass, you can do this.

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

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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