Baby colic

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at April 21, 2016
StartDiseasesBaby colic

Baby colic or infant colic is a condition that affects healthy infants. In most cases, the baby cries for several hours a day for no apparent reason. Parents can take steps to reduce possible discomfort caused by digestive issues.


Definition & Facts

Colic is identifiable by periods of predictable crying or crying that occurs at about the same time each day. Colic is usually identified by the rule of three. For instance, a healthy infant who cries for at least three hours a day, three days per week for at least three consecutive weeks may have colic. The most common pattern of crying includes the baby becoming fussy in the early evening, followed by several hours of inconsolable crying. The baby may continue crying well into the night or may stop crying after a few hours.

Colic affects approximately one out of every five infants, with most infants showing the first signs of colic between two and four weeks of age. Babies with colic are healthy and do not have any long-term side effects after outgrowing the condition. Family support is often important, especially for parents learning to comfort and soothe a baby with colic.

Symptoms & Complaints

Crying is the main symptom of colic. The baby's face may become flushed, or the baby may have a red face, and cry as if in pain. Feeding, changing, or holding the infant doesn't help the baby stop crying.

Some babies also have symptoms of gas, such as a slightly enlarged stomach. The baby may pull his or her legs in towards the stomach, or the baby may clench the fists.


Colic has no known cause, but many babies spend at least a portion of the day crying. When the crying doesn't stop using normal methods, such as feeding the baby, colic is suspected. Doctors and researchers have explored a number of factors that may cause colic, but have been unable to identify one specific cause. Common, but treatable, causes of inconsolable crying include a hernia and food sensitivities, such as milk allergies.

Babies with colic may have gas, or the baby may have a bowel movement near the end of a period of crying, but these factors are not proven to cause colic. Some experts think that an immature central nervous system causes the symptoms of colic, which causes the baby to cry as a response to too much stimulation. Babies can become too stimulated even in a quiet or calm environment. Over time, babies learn to self-soothe and the crying associated with colic resolves.

Diagnosis & Tests

Babies should be seen by a pediatrician to determine whether crying is caused by colic or another condition, such as infant acid reflux or an intestinal obstruction. There aren't any specific tests that can help prove colic is the cause of crying, but doctors can make sure that the infant is otherwise healthy. Parents should keep track of when crying occurs and how long the crying lasts. Parents can also keep a chart of the infant's feeding schedule and the number of diapers the infant uses each day to determine whether other conditions are present.

The doctor may perform a physical examination to rule out illnesses and disease that cause discomfort. In some cases, X-rays or other tests are provided to ensure the baby is healthy. Parents should note any other symptoms that occur when the baby is crying. For instance, struggling to breathe while crying or blue-tinged skin are symptoms that point to a physical illness. Other signs of a secondary condition causing discomfort include fever, lethargy, and failure to gain an appropriate amount of weight.

Treatment & Therapy

No proven treatment for colic exists, but parents can help infants feel more comfortable during periods of crying. Gas drops may be recommended by the pediatrician. Gas drops contain simethicone, an ingredient that helps relieve bloating and discomfort. Other pediatricians recommend probiotics. Probiotics help establish beneficial bacteria in the body. Some studies have suggested that the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus reuteri has been particularly helpful in reducing the symptoms of colic, but the results have not been proven.

Home remedies are commonly used to help relieve colic. Running a vacuum in the next room, for instance, provides white noise that can help infants feel more secure. Swaddling, rocking, or singing to an infant can also help. In some cases, the baby won't stop crying despite the parent's efforts to soothe the baby.

Frustrated parents should place the baby in a safe place, such as the crib, and take a five to 10 minute break. Feeling frustrated or anxious is common among parents who care for a colicky baby. When parents feel more relaxed after a short break, they can begin soothing the baby again.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

There is no known way to prevent colic, but there are a few methods that can reduce gas and help prevent stomach discomfort. Breastfeeding mothers can try eliminating certain foods, such as dairy or wheat, to ensure allergies aren't causing the infant discomfort. Breastfeeding moms can also allow the baby to nurse on one side until the breast is empty before switching. The hindmilk contains more fat, which helps keep the baby full for longer periods of time.

Changing brands or types of formula is an option for formula-fed babies who are sensitive to lactose or other dairy proteins. Feeding the baby in an upright position can help reduce gas, and using bottles that feature collapsible bags can reduce discomfort-causing gas. Regular checkups are recommended, and parents should seek help from outside sources, such as neighbors or relatives, to care for babies with colic.