Crying and Colic


There is little anyone can do to soothe and quiet a baby with colic, which makes it one of the most frustrating experiences for new parents. Experts estimate that as many as 25 percent of babies have colic, yet they are still puzzled at its causes.

Colic is defined as a period of prolonged crying or fussiness, with episodes usually occurring in the evening and lasting approximately 3 to 4 hours. It usually appears in the first three weeks of life and lasts for about 3 months.

Many people incorrectly apply the term “colicky” to any fussy baby; however, a baby with true colic presents specific symptoms, including:

  • Intense, inconsolable crying – The crying is lusty and forceful, not weak or sickly. His face will probably be flushed and he will be difficult, if not impossible, to comfort and quiet.

  • Predictable, recurring episodes of crying – Your baby cries around the same time every day, usually in the late afternoon or evening. The crying begins suddenly and for no apparent reason, and may last for just a few minutes or to several hours.

  • Physical tension – Many babies with colic have bloated, tense abdomens, pull their legs up to their stomachs, clench their fists, and appear to be in pain during the crying episodes.

Experts still don’t know for sure what causes colic, even after many years of research. However, the following are all possible culprits:

  • Cow’s milk allergies or intolerance

  • An immature digestive system that causes unusually strong intestinal contractions

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

  • Increased intestinal gas

  • Hormonal changes

  • Diet of mothers who breastfeed

  • Maternal anxiety or postpartum depression

  • Baby’s temperament – some babies just take longer to adjust to the world outside the womb

No medication, prescribed or over-the-counter, has been shown to always relieve colic safely and effectively. In addition, what works for one colicky baby may not work for another; and what works today may not work tomorrow, so you may have to try many methods to find one that works for you. The following have shown to help some colicky babies:

  • Slower, more frequent feedings – Eating too much, too fast may cause intestinal gas to build up in your baby, causing pain. Try feeding your baby half as much, twice as often.

  • Burp more frequently – Stop several times during feedings to burp your baby.

  • Rocking, swinging, dancing – Try to mimic the movements your baby experienced in the womb.

  • A warm bath – Climb in the warm water with your baby and hold her close, rocking her in the water.

  • Gas reducer – Place your baby on his tummy across your lap and rub his back, or try placing your baby on his back and pump his legs up and down as if he were riding a bicycle. Try laying him on his back and gently massaging his tummy.

  • Warm tummy – Place a warm (but not hot) water bottle on your lap and lay your baby face down, so his tummy is on the water bottle.

  • Music – Some babies respond well to music and it helps them calm down.

It can be extremely frustrating to care for a colicky baby; just remember, it is not your fault. One of the most difficult, yet important, things to remember is to keep yourself calm; try to relax and remember that your baby will eventually grow out of this phase. If you feel yourself becoming angry, stop and take a break. Call someone to watch your baby for a little while and go for a walk or take a relaxing hot bath. If you don’t have anyone you can call and feel you are near the end of your rope, place your baby somewhere safe (such as the crib) and take a 10 minute break. Never shake or hit your baby. If you need to talk to a professional counselor, call the Childhelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-422-4453 (4-A-CHILD). Crisis intervention counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are able to interpret 140 languages.