All newborns cry and show some fussiness. But as many as 1 in 5 babies are considered colicky, which means they cry for more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week for at least 3 weeks.
Colicky babies, for the most part, are perfectly normal, healthy infants. Colic usually starts between the 3rd and 6th week after birth and ends by the time the baby is 3 to 4 months old.
If your baby’s still crying excessively after that, another health problem may be to blame and you should consult your doctor.
What Causes Colic?
Doctors aren’t sure what causes colic. Cow’s milk intolerance has been suggested as a possible culprit, but doctors now believe that this is rarely the case.
Breastfed babies get colic too. In these cases, dietary changes by the mother may help the colic to subside. Some breastfeeding women find that getting rid of caffeine in their diet helps, while others see improvements when they eliminate dairy, soy, egg or wheat products.
Some colicky babies also have gas, but it’s not clear if the gas causes colic or if the babies develop gas as a result of swallowing too much air while crying.
Some theories suggest that colic occurs when food moves too quickly through a baby’s digestive system or isn’t digested completely.
Other theories are that colic is due to a baby’s temperament, that some babies just take a little longer to get adjusted to the world, or that some have undiagnosed gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It’s also been found that infants of mothers who smoke are more likely to have colic.
No single treatment has proved to make colic go away. But there are ways to make life easier for both you and your colicky baby.
First, if your baby isn’t hungry, don’t try to continue the feeding. Instead, try to console your little one. You can also:
- Walk with your baby or sit in a rocking chair, trying various positions.
- Try burping your baby more often during feedings.
- Place your baby across your lap on his belly and rub his back.
- Put your baby in a swing or vibrating seat. The motion may have a soothing effect.
- Put your baby in an infant car seat in the back of the car and go for a ride. The vibration and movement of the car are often calming.
- Play music tapes. Some babies respond to sound as well as movement.
- Place your baby in the same room as a running clothes dryer, white noise machine or vacuum — some infants find the low constant noise soothing.
- Some babies need decreased stimulation and may do well swaddled, in a darkened room.
Caring for a colicky baby can be very frustrating, so be sure to take care of yourself, too. Don’t blame yourself or your baby for the constant crying. Colic is nobody’s fault. Try to relax, and remember that your baby will eventually outgrow this phase.
Meanwhile, if you need a break from your baby’s crying, take one. Friends and relatives are often happy to watch your baby when you need some time to yourself.
If no one is immediately available, it’s OK to put the baby down in the crib and take a break before making another attempt at consoling her. If at any time you feel like you might hurt yourself or the baby, put the baby down in the crib and call for help immediately.
Call your doctor right away if your baby has a temperature of 100.4ºF or more, is crying for more than 2 hours at a time, is inconsolable, isn’t feeding well, has diarrhea or persistent vomiting, or is less awake or alert than usual.
You should also call your doctor if you’re unsure whether your baby’s crying is colic or a symptom of another illness.
© 2012. Article adapted from The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. Used under license.