Colic

Definition

Colic is excessive crying in a baby who is otherwise healthy. It makes it hard to console the baby.

It usually starts between 2 and 6 weeks of age. The crying happens regularly over three weeks or more. It is more common in the late afternoon or evening.

Causes

The exact cause is not known.

Risk Factors

Colic is common. Some things that may raise the risk are:

  • Maternal smoking during pregnancy
  • Firstborn status
  • Parental depression during pregnancy

Symptoms

The main problem is crying episodes that last longer than three hours and make it hard to console the baby. A baby may also:

  • Draw his or her arms and legs toward body
  • Turn red from crying
  • Pass gas or burp a lot
  • Have problems passing stool
  • Make tight fists, kick, or arch his or her back

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your baby's symptoms and health history. You will also be asked how your baby acts when crying, how long crying lasts, and when it happens. A physical exam will be done. This is enough to make the diagnosis in a baby that has no other health problems.

Treatment

There is no cure for colic. Colic usually goes away on its own by the time a baby is 3 to 6 months of age.

Steps can be taken to manage symptoms. Options are:

Dietary and Feeding Changes

Some dietary changes that may help are:

  • Dietary changes in a breastfeeding mother or a change in formula for a baby that is bottle fed
  • Slowing down bottle feedings by using a nipple with a smaller hole
  • Changes in feeding methods, such as burping the baby after feeding or feeding the baby in an upright position

Friendly bacteria known as probiotics may also be advised to ease crying.

Comfort Steps

Some comfort steps that may help are:

  • Taking the baby for a walk or for a ride in the car
  • Rocking the baby in a chair, in your arms, or in a baby swing
  • Massaging the baby, such as rubbing his or her back
  • Swaddling the baby in a blanket
  • Bathing the baby in warm water
  • Giving the baby a pacifier

It is important for parents to take breaks from a baby's crying. The baby should be put in a safe crib or watched by another caregiver.

Prevention

Probiotics may help to prevent colic in some babies.

RESOURCES:

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
http://www.healthychildren.org
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation
http://www.kidshealth.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca

References:

Colic. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/colic. Accessed August 30, 2021.
Colic relief tips for parents. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/crying-colic/Pages/Colic.aspx. Accessed August 30, 2021.
Infantile colic. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/infantile-colic. Accessed August 30, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kuenn, MD
Last Updated: 8/30/2021

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