All babies cry. Some more than others. In fact normal crying can last up to 2 hours a day. But when a healthy baby cries for even longer for no apparent reason, it might be colic. This is a common problem that affects some babies during the first 3 to 4 months of life.
What causes colic?
Experts don’t know for sure what causes colic, but there are a few theories about why it happens. Colic may occur when babies:
- Are sensitive and have trouble adjusting to the world. After birth, newborns must get used to lights, loud noises and other new things around them. But babies have different personalities (temperaments). Some infants can handle these things well. Other babies don’t adapt as easily. Crying may be one way for a baby to show his or her feelings while getting used to the world.
- Are unable to calm themselves. Some babies seem very sensitive to stimulation. They can’t calm themselves (self-soothe). Their nervous system is still developing. As babies get a little older, they are better able to control their nervous system. As this happens, colic goes away.
What are the symptoms of colic?
A healthy baby may have colic if he or she cries or is fussy for several hours a day, for no obvious reason. Colicky babies often cry from 6 p.m. to midnight. Colicky crying is louder, more high-pitched, and more urgent sounding than regular crying. Colicky babies can be very hard to calm down.
Babies who have colic may show symptoms such as:
- Burping often or passing a lot of gas. This is likely because of swallowing air while crying.
- Having a bright red (flushed) face
- Having a tight belly
- Curling up their legs toward their belly when crying
- Clenching their fists when crying
The symptoms of colic can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her health care provider for a diagnosis.
How is colic diagnosed?
The health care provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam. You may be asked questions such as:
- How long and how often does your baby cry?
- Have you found anything that seems to trigger the crying?
- What comfort methods help to calm your baby, if any?
Blood tests and X-rays or other imaging tests may be done. These can help find out if your baby has other health problems.
How is colic treated?
There are many tips for helping to soothe and deal with a colicky baby.
- If your baby is bottle-fed, it may help to use a curved bottle. This lets you hold your baby in an upright position.
- To reduce the amount of air your baby swallows during feeding, burp your baby often. Using a bottle with a collapsible bag or liner may also help.
- Learning how to understand your baby’s cry can help in dealing with colic. It takes some time for parents and babies to get used to each other.
What works for one baby may not work for another. Other suggestions to try include:
- Make sure your baby isn’t hungry. But don’t force-feed your baby if he or she isn’t interested in the bottle or breast.
- Change your baby’s position.
- Give your baby interesting things to look at: different shapes, colors, textures, and sizes.
- Swaddle your baby then talk or sing to him or her.
- Rock or walk your baby.
- Wrap or swaddle your baby in a blanket.
- Place your baby in an infant swing on a slow setting.
- Go for a ride in the car. The motion of the car often soothes babies.
If your baby is bottle-fed and these methods don’t work, your child’s health care provider may recommend a one-week trial of a non-milk-based formula. If you breastfeed your baby, the provider may suggest that you avoid foods that are likely to cause an allergic reaction. This means that you should not have milk, eggs, nuts or wheat for a period of time.
Dealing with a colicky baby is stressful. It may help to let someone care for your baby from time to time. Ask an adult family member, friend or a responsible babysitter. It’s important to take a break. Taking care of yourself and reducing your stress level may help your baby as well. Just remember, it will go away, often by age 3 or 6 months.