Colic is frequent, prolonged and intense crying or fussiness in a healthy infant. Colic can be particularly frustrating for parents because the baby’s distress occurs for no apparent reason and no amount of consoling seems to bring any relief. These episodes often occur in the evening, when parents themselves are often tired.
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 baby who is healthy cries for more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 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.
What Causes Colic?
Unfortunately, there is no definite explanation for why this happens. Most often, colic means simply that the child is unusually sensitive to stimulation or cannot “self-console” or regulate his nervous system. (Also known as an immature nervous system.) As she matures, this inability to self-console—marked by constant crying—will improve. Generally this “colicky crying” will stop by three to four months, but it can last until six months of age. Sometimes, in breastfeeding babies, colic is a sign of sensitivity to a food in the mother’s diet. The discomfort is caused only rarely by sensitivity to milk protein in formula.
The following symptoms will appear in an otherwise healthy and well-fed infant:
- Intense crying: The infant cries intensely and furiously, and there is not much the parents can do to comfort them. The baby’s face will become red and flushed. Crying episodes tend to occur at the same time every day – generally during the late afternoon or evening. Episodes may last from a few minutes to much longer periods. Crying usually starts suddenly and for no apparent reason
- Changed posture: Fists may be clenched, tensed abdominal muscles, knees drawn up, and the back arched
- Sleeping: Sleep may be irregular and interrupted with episodes of crying
- Feeding: Feeding may also be interrupted and irregular with episodes of intense crying. However, the amount the baby eats each day is not reduced
- Wind: During episodes of intense crying, the baby may pass wind
- Varying intensities: With some infants, symptoms are mild, and the baby may only experience periods of restlessness.
How to comfort the baby during colic episodes?
- First, of course, consult your pediatrician to make sure that the crying is not related to any serious medical condition that may require treatment. Then ask him which of the following would be most helpful.
- If you’re nursing, you can try to eliminate milk products, caffeine, onions, cabbage, and any other potentially irritating foods from your own diet.
- If you’re feeding formula to your baby, talk with your pediatrician about a protein hydrolysate formula. If food sensitivity is causing the discomfort, the colic should decrease within a few days of these changes.
- Do not overfeed your baby, which could make her uncomfortable. In general, try to wait at least two to two and a half hours from the start of one feeding to the start of the next one.
- Walk your baby in a baby carrier to soothe her. The motion and body contact will reassure her, even if her discomfort persists.
- Rock her, run the vacuum in the next room, or place her where she can hear the clothes dryer, a fan or a white-noise machine. Steady rhythmic motion and a calming sound may help her fall asleep. However, be sure to never place your child on top of the washer/dryer.
- Introduce a pacifier. While some breastfed babies will actively refuse it, it will provide instant relief for others.
- Lay your baby tummy-down across your knees and gently rub her back. The pressure against her belly may help comfort her.
- Swaddle her in a large, thin blanket so that she feels secure and warm.
Colic can be exhausting for parents, but it causes little in the way of long-term health problems.