What is colic?

Colic

Colic in babies: Overview

Colic is extreme crying in a baby between 3 weeks and 3 months of age. Doctors may diagnose colic when a baby is healthy but cries more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week, for more than 3 weeks. The crying is often more intense than normal crying.

It can be very hard to calm a baby after a session of colic has started. Home treatment will not cure colic, but it may help your baby cry less hard and less often. Try different ways to comfort your baby to see what works best. If nothing works, put your baby in a crib and stay close by. Try again after about 5 minutes. Babies usually grow out of colic by about 3 months of age.

Colic

Colic is extreme crying in a baby between 3 weeks and 3 months of age who has no other health problems.

It can be upsetting to have a healthy baby who cries no matter what you do. But it is normal for some babies—and temporary. Your baby will grow out of it.

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 colic 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?

Things that might help include making sure that your baby isn't hungry. Young babies may be hungry 1 or 2 hours after a feeding. Try soothing your baby with motion or sound, like gentle rocking or quiet singing. If you feel overwhelmed, maybe you could ask someone to give you a break.

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 colic?

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.

Why is it important to not use unproven treatments or methods for colic?

Using unapproved or unproven substances or methods to treat colic could harm your baby.

Treatments that could be dangerous include:

  • Medicines, such as antispasmodics or sleep aids. These and other medicines can have serious and even deadly side effects in infants. If your doctor prescribes them to treat other symptoms your baby is having, be sure to follow the instructions carefully.
  • Placing a hot-water bottle or heating pad on your baby's stomach. Babies burn easily, so do not use heated items such as these.
  • Quieting a baby with alcohol. It's even dangerous to give your baby a pacifier dipped in brandy or other types of alcohol.
  • Gripe water. Different kinds of ingredients are used in blends labeled as gripe water. Alcohol is a main ingredient in some of them. Gripe water is an herbal home remedy that is not considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some companies sell gripe water in the United States as a dietary supplement, instead of as a medicine, to avoid FDA regulation.

Other things to avoid include:

  • Stopping breastfeeding. Sometimes people believe that they may not be producing enough milk for their baby or that their baby is allergic to the milk. But this is rarely the case, and weaning a colicky baby to formula can make the colic worse.
  • Feeding foods (such as baby cereal and solids) earlier than recommended.
  • Switching to a soy-based formula when milk allergy symptoms are not present.

Colic in babies: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you or your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have thoughts of harming yourself, your baby, or another person.
  • Your baby has been shaken, has a change in their level of consciousness, or has trouble breathing.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your baby cries in a strange way or for a very long time.
  • Your baby has not been diagnosed with colic but cries a lot and also has symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or blood or mucus in the stool.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your baby is not gaining weight.
  • Your baby has no symptoms other than crying, but you want to check for health problems that may be related.
  • You have tried comfort measures many times and have not been able to console your baby.
  • Your baby seems to be acting odd, even though you don't know exactly what concerns you.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.