What is Colic?

Babies who are colicky have daily episodes of continual crying or wailing that lasts for several hours during each occurrence. These episodes usually begin when a baby is two to three weeks old and they normally diminish when the infant reaches three months of age.

Although the reasons for colic are not fully understood, there are several speculations as to what causes some babies to have colic. These include gas pains, hypersensitivity to noise, lights or other stimulants, an intolerance to specific foods or formula, and emotional reactions, such as excitability or discontent. Additionally, it is theorized that women who breast feed their babies may be heightening the risks for colic by what they consume. These may include gassy foods, such as cabbage and beans, dairy products, caffeine and some medications.

What are the Symptoms of Colic?

Colicky babies will usually start crying in the evening hours and they will often cry for a long time. It is not unusual for babies who have colic to cry for a period of one to four hours without stopping. As this occurs, they may ball up their hands to make a fist and they may repeatedly bend their legs up to their chest and then straighten them out. The stomach of a baby who has colic may also appear swollen.

Colic Causes

Colic may be caused by indigestion; however, the exact cause is unknown. Experts suggest that it is because of a baby’s immature gut and sensitivity to certain substances in formula or breast milk. Babies with smaller, newer tummies have a big job to do when it comes to breaking down milk in their tiny gastrointestinal systems. Food that doesn’t completely break down or that passes too quickly can cause discomfort for many babies. Lactose intolerance could also play a role in the development of colic.

Some other theories about what causes colic include infant acid reflux, exposure to cigarette smoke, and overstimulated senses. Infant acid reflux, which results from an underdeveloped lower esophageal sphincter, can irritate the esophagus, causing colic.

Studies show that babies whose mothers who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have colic. Though it’s unclear what the link is between cigarette smoke and colic, there does seem to be a connection, according to researchers.

In the first month of life, babies have a mechanism that allows them to tune out their surroundings so that they can sleep in peace, but after that disappears, babies are more sensitive to the sights and sounds in their surroundings, which could cause stress. Colic usually goes away when newborns learn how to filter out certain things in their immediate environment.

How is Colic Treated?

Parents should take a colicky infant to the pediatrician to make sure the crying is not a sign of a serious health condition. The pediatrician may suggest a store-bought medication that can help the infant with gas issues. Colic will eventually go away on its own but parents can try various methods to soothe their unhappy infant.

When a colicky baby has a bowel movement or passes gas, this will sometimes make the infant feel better. Holding the baby in a vertical position or rocking the infant in a rocking chair often helps with a gassy stomach. Wrapping a baby up in a blanket and holding the infant close also often helps to control colic symptoms.

Colic Prevention Prevention

Colic cannot be completely prevented since the causes still aren’t fully understood. One possible preventative measure is avoiding smoking during pregnancy and also trying to avoid second-hand smoke.

There are steps you can take to reduce your baby’s discomfort when they are colicky. If you think your baby might be overstimulated, try creating a calming environment for them by dimming the lights or speaking in a soothing voice. If you think your baby may be fussy due to gastrointestinal stress, try giving her gas relief drops or gripe water. If problems seem to persist, think about switching your baby’s formula to one without cow’s milk or one for sensitive tummies.

You can also try holding your baby close to you, creating white noise with a fan, or playing soothing music. A pacifier may also work for some babies since sucking is soothing for them. A change of scenery might also do the trick. Get out of the house for a little while, or just get moving and go for a walk.

Last Reviewed:
September 19, 2016
Last Updated:
December 07, 2017