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Colic or infantile colic is frequent and intense crying in a baby for no apparent reason. It is usually observed in newborn babies within the first six weeks. It can cause frustration for parents because they do not understand the cause of crying, and no remedies seem to help in most cases. Colic occurs naturally in most newborn babies, and it declines over time as they grow over the age of 4 to 5 months. Since colic can be pretty distressing for parents, it is important to understand the possible causes and how to manage them. 


Colic can occur due to several reasons. It is difficult to pinpoint a single cause because newborns cannot communicate their symptoms. So even if it is a mild or severe case, it is expressed in the form of crying. Incomplete digestion of food is considered one of the reasons. Since the digestive tract of a newborn is sensitive, it may get triggered by a certain element in the mother’s feed or formula milk. Sometimes, a component can also cause an allergic reaction which can cause mild to moderate pain.


It is important to remember that newborns should not be given adult foods, even in liquid form, as they may harm their digestive tract. A baby's gut bacteria are unstable during the initial stages of life and get balanced as the baby grows. So the only food for a baby should be breast milk or formula milk. Irregular burping or underfeeding may also cause colic. In some situations, young babies may develop childhood migraine. Family stress can also affect the mood of a young baby. 

Risk Factors And Epidemiology

The risk factors of colic are not well understood. Research has been done to notice the effect of different situations on a newborn child, such as breast milk versus formula milk. However, no significant changes have been seen yet. It depends on the baby’s digestive and immune system, which develops well over time. Colic is not considered a major health concern unless the baby starts showing signs and symptoms of another disease. About 10 to 40% of the children in the world are affected by colic. There is no racial or gender distinction in this case. 

Signs And Symptoms

The general criteria for colic are episodes of frequent crying for three or more hours a day, for three or more days a week, for three or more weeks. It is difficult to differentiate between normal crying, e.g., for a diaper change, and crying due to colic. It has been noticed that crying episodes during colic are more intense, and it seems like the baby is screaming out of pain. The baby will be fussy and irritable for no apparent reason. Often these episodes occur around a particular time, such as in the evening hours. Parents are often tired too during this time, so it may become frustrating to manage a crying baby. The baby may also have stiff arms, legs, or back muscles. The face may become flushed after bouts of intense crying. The crying may lesson after the baby passes gas or stool. 


Your doctor will require a detailed history of the baby’s feeding and bowel habits along with other relative factors. This is followed by a physical examination to look for signs and symptoms of any health concerns if present such as jaundice, anemia, fever, etc. History and examination are essential in ruling out other possible causes of crying other than colic. In case of a newborn, colic is the likely diagnosis if no other apparent cause is found. Blood tests or imaging tests are only done if the baby presents with other symptoms such as vomiting, high grade fever, diarrhea, rapid weight loss, etc.  These symptoms could be a sign of an infection or disease. 


Treatment measures focus on options that help in soothing the baby. Many techniques can be used, and each may or may not be effective. Some of them include gently rocking your baby, doing soothing motions, giving a pacifier, carrying your baby around in a carrier, going for walk or car ride, giving a warm bath, playing relaxing sounds or white noise, placing baby on tummy or giving a tummy rub and limiting audio and visual stimulations. Try to feed the baby in an upright position and burp during and after every feeding. Burping helps release entrapped air, and the baby feels more comfortable afterwards.

Sometimes, changes in the mother’s diet can also improve colic if the baby is breastfed. These changes include eating a diet containing fewer allergens such as dairy, nuts, eggs, etc. Other foods that may irritate the digestive system such as onions, cabbage, cucumbers or caffeine can also be reduced. Medications are not much helpful in case of colic. They may also have potential side effects or risk of over-dosage.


Parents should also take care of their own mental and physical health while caring for a newborn. It is important to take breaks in between and rest whenever you find the time. Maintain your diet as well and keep yourself hydrated. If mothers are going through post-partum depression, it can be helpful to consult with a therapist. 


Colic usually resolves on its own in a few weeks or months. It can be a difficult period for both parents and the baby. Having a support system can help adjust to this new life change and adapt to such unforeseen circumstances. 


It is difficult to prevent colic because it naturally happens in many babies. Changing diapers whenever needed, feeding on time, burping the baby, and taking care of essential needs can help limit the signs of stress. Parents should also try their best to keep themselves healthy as well. Lack of proper diet or irregular routine can add to your frustration.

Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr.Saad Zia on May 15, 2023.


Colic | Johns Hopkins Medicine


Colic - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic