Colic is uncontrollable crying in an otherwise healthy baby. Colic is not a disease or diagnosis but a combination of baffling behaviors. It’s really just a catch-all term for problem crying in otherwise healthy babies — the problem being, there’s no solution to it besides the passing of time. And it’s common, occurring in one in five infants.
Fussing and crying are normal for infants, and a fussy baby doesn’t necessarily have colic. Doctors usually diagnose colic based on the “rules of three.” Your baby’s crying:
- Lasts at least three hours at a stretch
- Occurs at least three days a week
- Persists for at least three weeks in a row
Colic’s exact cause is unknown, and that’s why there’s not a clear way to help it. Some theories of what’s behind it include:
- A growing digestive system with muscles that often spasm
- Hormones that cause stomach pain or a fussy mood
- Oversensitivity or overstimulation by light, noise, etc.
- A moody baby
- A still-developing nervous system
Remedies and Relief
Here are some techniques recommended by Dr. Sehgal that may help soothe your colicky baby.
Lay your baby on their tummy, across your stomach or lap. The change in position may help calm some colicky babies. You can also rub your baby’s back, which is both soothing and may help gas pass through. In addition, tummy time helps your baby build stronger neck and shoulder muscles. Remember to only put your baby on their tummy while awake and under supervision.
Babies with colic often respond well to being held. Being close to you is comforting. Holding your baby for longer periods early in the day might help reduce colic in the evening. Using an infant carrier allows you to keep the baby close, while keeping your arms free.
Keeping your baby in motion may be enough to soothe colic. Try going for a drive with your baby or putting them in an infant swing.
Hold Them Upright After Feeding
Having gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may be a contributing factor for colic. Babies with GERD experience heartburn because the breast milk or formula is coming back up through their esophagus.
Holding the baby upright after feedings can reduce acid reflux symptoms. Lying on their back or reclining in a car seat after eating can make symptoms worse, causing the baby to be cranky.
Using Infant Cereal to Thicken Milk
Infant rice cereal can be added to either breast milk or formula as a thickening agent. This is another way to help reduce acid reflux episodes in babies with GERD.
Add one tablespoon of rice cereal to one ounce of formula or pumped breast milk. You may need to make the nipple hole in your baby’s bottle a tiny bit larger for the thicker liquid. Be sure to check with your pediatrician before trying this.
Discomfort from a milk protein intolerance or allergy may also be partly responsible for your baby’s colic. In this case, switching to an elemental formula or one with a different protein source may make it easier to digest.
It takes about two days to notice an improvement. If your baby is still crying at the same rate, intolerance or allergy may not be the issue.
Take notice of what works (or doesn’t) to soothe your baby. This will help you pinpoint the best solution to restoring peace to your house and comfort to your little one.
When to See a Doctor
Seek immediate medical attention if your baby’s crying could be the result of a fall, injury or illness.
Contact your baby’s doctor if:
- You notice a bluish-cast to your baby’s lips or skin during a crying episode.
- You’re concerned about your baby’s crying, especially if you notice changes in your baby’s eating, sleeping or behavior.
- You can help your baby’s doctor by tracking in a diary when your baby cries and for how long. Also record your baby’s sleeping and eating patterns.
Fact and Fallacy
Myth: Colicky babies grow up to be unhappy kids.
Fact: “Colic is not your baby’s defining personality trait,” says Dr. Jana. “Once the colic is gone, your child can have a completely different personality — spunky, sensitive, crabby. But colic is not going to tell you which, because it doesn’t carry over.”
Myth: Colic results from overstimulation.
Fact: Colicky kids cry because they miss all the noise and stimulation they got in the womb. “If you take them to a noisy basketball game, they usually go to sleep,” notes Dr. Karp.
Myth: Your new-parent anxiety is making your baby cry.
Fact: “Babies aren’t sharks in the water, and they can’t smell your anxiety,” Dr. Karp says. What they can pick up on: body temperature and how relaxed you are — or aren’t. “When you’re anxious, you may jump from one thing to another because you’re uncertain, and they can sense that,” he adds.
Myth: Medications can relieve colic.
Fact: Some parents think that diphenhydramine, an antihistamine also sold as a sleep aid, will help calm tears. But it makes some babies cry more. Reflux meds also don’t often help — only about 2 percent of colicky babies have the type that warrants medicine. “Doctors know better, but under parental pressure they often medicate these kids,” says Dr. Weissbluth.