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Colic is excessive crying in a baby with no obvious cause. During these episodes, it is very hard to console the baby. This intense crying occurs regularly over at least a few weeks. It is more common during the night.
Colic can start as early as 2 weeks of age. It is the worst at 6 weeks. Colic often disappears by age 5 months.
The exact cause of colic is not known.
Colic-like crying can be caused by certain common problems. Your doctor will look for these issues.
Colic is most common in babies 2 weeks to 4 months old. Other factors that increase your baby's chance for colic include:
- Mother smoking during pregnancy or after birth
- Sensitive temperament
These symptoms may be caused by colic or other discomforts. Some may not require medical care. Talk to your doctor if your baby is having symptoms such as:
- Loud crying that may last for several hours
- Inability to be consoled
- Turning red from crying
- Pulling arms and legs toward body and then stretching limbs out
- Passing gas or burping due to swallowing air while crying
The doctor will ask about your baby's medical history and symptoms. A physical exam will be done. Your baby's weight or weight change will also be checked. Let the doctor know how your baby acts during colic, how long colic lasts, and when it occurs.
- Allergic reactions or hypersensitivity to certain formulas, lactose intolerance, or gas
- Feeding problems
- Problems with sleep cycles or processing things in the environment
- Illness such as an ear infection
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Blockage of the intestinal tract
To help determine if your baby has colic or another condition, your doctor may ask:
- Is your baby eating well?
- Is your baby producing 5 to 8 very wet diapers each day?
- Is your baby producing stool normally?
- Is your baby having colic-free periods?
- Does your baby have a fever?
A treatment plan will be chosen based on your baby's condition. Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment that cures colic. There are steps you can take to help reduce the discomfort your baby feels.
Support for Baby
Make changes during feeding time:
- If breastfed, consider making changes to the mother's diet. This may include avoiding cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, and fish.
- If bottle-fed, consider using a whey hydrolysate formula. Make sure to warm the formula before giving it to your baby.
- Bottle feedings may need to be slowed down. Try using a nipple with a smaller hole.
- Burp your baby well after feeding.
- Feed your baby in a more upright position. This position will keep gas in your baby's stomach. Gas in the stomach is more easily burped up.
Talk to the doctor about alternative treatments. Certain supplements that may be helpful include:
- Fennel extract
- Herbal combination of chamomile, fennel, vervain, licorice, and balm mint
- Friendly bacteria known as probiotics—talk to your doctor about which probiotic may be right for your child
Note: To keep your baby safe, check with the doctor before using any herbs or supplements.
Other strategies that may help include:
- Take your baby for a walk or for a ride in the car. Try a baby safe swing.
- Position your baby on the tummy, across your lap. Gently rub your baby's back.
- Consider learning baby massage.
- Swaddle your baby in a soft blanket.
- Rock your baby in a rocking chair or in your arms. Hold your baby close and bounce or walk gently.
- Bathe your baby in warm water.
- Let your baby use a pacifier.
- Make sure your baby isn't too warm or cold.
- Try skin-to-skin contact.
Support for Parents
It is upsetting to see your baby crying and not being able to help. The high-pitched crying of a colicky baby is also difficult for anyone to listen to. Try to keep in mind that most babies with colic are healthy. Most will outgrow colic by 3-4 months of age. Know that it is not your fault that the baby does not stop crying. To help you get through this period consider:
- Taking some time to distract yourself from the intensity of the crying. Place your baby in a safe crib and go to a nearby room to watch television or listen to music.
- Taking a break. Ask your family members, friends, or a sitter to help care for your baby.
If you ever feel angry or violent towards the baby, put your baby in a safe place and step out of the room. Call someone for help right away, like your doctor. There are many services available to help you deal with your emotions. The doctor can refer you to these services.
Probiotics may help to prevent colic in some infants. Talk to the doctor about whether this is an option for your baby.
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Nemours Kid's Health
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
Colic. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/colic.html. Updated July 2013. Accessed February 17, 2014.
Colic. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/crying-colic/Pages/Colic.aspx. Updated October 31, 2013. Accessed February 17, 2014.
Infantile colic. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 14, 2014. Accessed February 17, 2014.
5/14/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Aviner S, Berkovitch M, et al. Use of a homeopathic preparation for "infantile colic" and an apparent life-threatening event. Pediatrics. 2010;125(2):e318-323.
8/23/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Savino F, Cordisco L, et al. Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17 938 in infantile colic: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Pediatrics. 2010;126(3):e526-e533.
4/7/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Indrio F, Di Mauro A, et al. Prophylactic use of a probiotic in the prevention of colic, regurgitation, and functional constipation: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(3):228-233.
- Reviewer: Kari Kassir, MD
- Review Date: 01/2015
- Update Date: 05/05/2014