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What Is Colic?
Colic is when a healthy baby cries a lot for a longer time than most babies.
All newborns cry and get fussy sometimes. During the first 3 months of life, they cry more than at any other time. But when a healthy baby cries for 3 or more hours a day, 3 or more days a week, a health care provider may say the baby has colic (KOL-ik).
Colic doesn't mean a baby has any health problems. With time, colic goes away on its own.
How Do I Know if It's Colic or Normal Crying?
Colic is a special pattern of crying. Babies with colic are healthy, and eating and growing well but cry in spells. The spells happen at the same time of day. Most often, the crying starts in the early evening.
During a colic spell, a baby:
- has high-pitched crying or screaming
- is very hard to soothe
- can have a red face or pale skin around the mouth
- may pull in the legs, stiffen the arms, arch the back, or clench fists
What if It's Not Colic?
Babies cry for other reasons that are not colic. The first step is to make sure a baby doesn't have a health reason to be crying.
Call your doctor right away if your baby:
- has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
- is less alert or active than usual
- isn't feeding well
- isn't sucking strongly when taking the bottle or breast
- has loose stools or blood in the stool
- is throwing up (when food comes out of the baby's mouth or nose with force)
- is losing weight or not gaining weight
- can't calm down no matter what you do
What Causes Colic?
Doctors aren't sure what causes colic. It may be due to digestion problems or a sensitivity to something in the baby's formula or that a nursing mom is eating. Or it might be from a baby trying to get used to the sights and sounds of being out in the world.
Some colicky babies also have gas because they swallow so much air while crying. But it's not the gas that causes the colic.
Colic most often starts when a baby is about 2–5 weeks old and gets better by the time the baby is 3–4 months old. Any baby can have colic.
How Is Colic Diagnosed?
There is no test for colic. Health care providers ask about the crying and how the baby is doing They'll do an exam to make sure there's no health reason for the crying. If you think your baby has colic, call your doctor.
How Is Colic Treated?
There's no treatment to make colic go away. But there are ways you can help:
- Make sure your baby isn't hungry.
- Make sure your baby has a clean diaper.
- Try burping your baby more often during feedings.
- If you bottle-feed, try other bottles to see if they help your baby swallow less air.
- Ask your doctor if changing formula could help.
- Some nursing moms find that cutting caffeine, dairy, soy, egg, nuts, or wheat from their diet helps. Talk to your doctor before doing this and stop only one thing at a time.
- Rock or walk with the baby.
- Sing or talk to your baby.
- Offer the baby a pacifier.
- Take the baby for a ride in a stroller.
- Hold your baby close against your body and take calm, slow breaths.
- Give the baby a warm bath.
- Pat or rub the baby's back.
- Place your baby across your lap on their belly and rub your baby's back.
- Put your baby in a swing or vibrating seat. The motion may be soothing.
- Put your baby in an infant car seat in the back of the car and go for a ride. Often, the movement of the car is calming.
- Play music — some babies calm down with sound as well as movement.
Some babies need less stimulation. Babies 2 months and younger may do well swaddled, lying on their back in the crib with the lights very dim or dark. Make sure the swaddle isn't too tight. Stop swaddling when the baby is starting to be able to roll over.
What if a Baby Won't Stop Crying?
Caring for a colicky baby can be hard. If your baby won't stop crying:
- Call a friend or family member for support or to take care of the baby while you take a break.
- If nothing else works, put the baby on his or her back in a crib without loose blankets or stuffed animals, close the door, and check on the baby in 10 minutes. During that 10 minutes, do something to try to relax and calm down. Try washing your face, eating a snack, deep breathing, or listening to music.
Don't blame yourself or your baby for the crying — colic is nobody's fault. Try to relax, and know that your baby will outgrow this phase.
If you ever feel like you might hurt yourself or the baby, put the baby down in the crib and call for help right away. Never shake a baby.
Where Can I Get Help?
The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome offers a program, the Period of PURPLE Crying, to help parents and other caregivers understand crying and how to handle it.
All Babies Cry is a program that helps people learn how to soothe a baby and cope with crying.
The program has 4 parts:
- What's normal about crying?
- Comforting your baby.
- Self-care tips for parents.
- Colic and how to cope.
If you're worried you might hurt your baby or someone else will, call the national hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) anytime for help.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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Images sourced by The Nemours Foundation and Getty Images.