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Colic

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Colic

Condition Basics

What is colic?

All babies cry, but sometimes a baby will cry for hours at a time, no matter what you do. This extreme type of crying in a baby between 3 weeks and 3 months of age is called colic. Although it is upsetting for parents and caregivers, colic is normal for some babies.

Doctors usually diagnose colic when a healthy baby cries more than expected: more than 3 hours a day more than 3 days a week for at least 3 weeks in a row. Colic is usually worst when babies are around 6 to 8 weeks of age and goes away on its own between 8 and 14 weeks of age.

It is common to feel scared, upset, or frustrated when you cannot get your baby to stop crying. But remember that colic is normal—and temporary. Your baby will grow out of it.

What causes it?

Doctors are not sure what causes colic. It may be the result of an immature nervous or digestive system. Having gas in the belly can make crying worse. As babies grow and develop, they are better able to control their crying.

Colic is not your fault or your baby's fault. It doesn't mean that you are a bad parent or that anything is wrong with your baby.

If you think your baby is crying because your baby is hurt or sick, call your doctor.

What can make your baby's crying worse?

Health problems or injuries can cause a baby to cry. And they can make a colicky baby's crying worse. For example:

  • Babies may cry more when they have a digestion problem such as milk protein intolerance or milk sugar intolerance.
  • Some people notice that their baby's crying gets worse after they've had certain foods or drinks and then breastfeed their baby. Some foods may affect breast milk, such as garlic, broccoli, fresh fruits, and caffeine. They may help cause intestinal gas or other digestive problems in the baby.

What are the symptoms of colic?

Most babies will cry less when they are held, fed, and given attention. These things may not work for babies who have colic. When they are crying, they may clench their fists and stiffen their stomach and legs. Some babies arch their back, while others pull up their legs to their stomach.

Vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or blood or mucus in the stool is not a symptom of colic. If your baby has any of these symptoms, your baby needs to be checked by a doctor.

How is it diagnosed?

If you are worried about your baby's crying, see your doctor or talk about it at your baby's next routine checkup.

To find out if crying is colic, your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you about your baby's past health. The doctor may ask what comfort measures you have tried and whether you've noticed any other symptoms. You may also be asked how the crying affects you and to show how you feed and burp your baby. Your doctor may suggest that you keep track of when and how often your baby cries.

If your baby has other symptoms, such as vomiting or a fever, your doctor may do lab tests or X-rays to find out what is causing them.

How can you care for your baby who has colic?

Here are some ways you can help your baby who has colic.

  • Make sure your baby is not hungry. Very young babies usually don't eat much at one sitting. This means they may get hungry 1 to 2 hours later. If your baby isn't eating much but is soothed when given food because of the sucking, try offering a pacifier or a clean finger instead.
  • Try soothing your baby with motion or sound.
    • Gently rock your baby or use a mechanical swing. You may also try singing quietly or playing music at a low volume.
    • Try turning on something with a soft and steady sound. You could try a fan that hums, a vacuum cleaner, or a white-noise sleep machine for babies. Put the machine far from the crib and use the lowest volume to keep the baby's hearing safe from harm. And use the machine only for short periods of time.
    • Combine these sounds with loving attention, such as talking and touching.
  • Cuddle your baby. Hold the baby pressed close to you in your arms. Try using a front pack. You may also try swaddling, which is wrapping your baby in a blanket. When you swaddle your baby:
    • Keep the blanket loose around the hips and legs. If the legs are wrapped tightly or straight, hip problems may develop.
    • Keep a close eye on your baby to make sure they don't get too warm.
  • Change their position. Hold your baby so that you put gentle pressure on the belly. Try placing your baby over your knee or with their belly over your lower arm and their head at your elbow.
  • Take your baby for a walk or ride. Sometimes a walk outside in a front pack or stroller can change a baby's mood. Some babies are soothed by riding in the car.
  • If your baby likes the water, try giving them a warm bath.
  • Never shake, slap, or hit your baby. This can cause serious or even deadly brain injuries. If you feel overwhelmed, maybe you could ask a family member or friend to give you a break.

Credits

Current as of: February 28, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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