Colic

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated July 6, 2017.

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What is colic?

Colic seems to be a catch-all term for a baby who cries a lot and the reason is not known.  However, a true “colicky” baby is one who cries at least 3 hours a day, 3 days a week, for at least 3 weeks. 1  A baby with colic should not be mistaken for one who has fussy evenings. Taking care of a baby who cries all the time is very stressful and draining, especially on a breastfeeding mother!

What are the symptoms?

Colic seems to begin when a baby is just a couple weeks old.  A colicky baby usually cries in high-pitched screams, has his knees drawn up as if in pain, and sometimes has a swollen abdomen.  Feeding, holding, carrying, rocking, singing, talking, etc. don’t always stop the crying and it may seem nothing can comfort your baby.  The crying is many times worse late in the day.

What causes colic?

There are several things that commonly cause a baby to be labeled as colicky, though sometimes the cause is not known.

Are there treatment options for colic?

True colic does not have a known cause.  However, since reflux, food allergies, and oversupply are such common causes for colic symptoms, certain measures can be taken to try to help the situation.

  • Hold baby upright and close to you – a sling or wrap are great for this
  • Allow him free access to breastfeed whenever he wants – a sling is perfect for this as well
  • Walk and talk to your baby – don’t leave him laying down crying and don’t sit down with him in your arms crying.  Standing up and moving – even dancing – seem to have a more magical effect!
  • Try holding him tummy down on your forearm
  • Try to take care of his needs before he is so upset and screaming he is harder to calm
  • If you are breastfeeding, keep a detailed food log of everything you eat.  An intolerance or allergy is most likely to be to cow’s milk, though this protein can take several weeks to be completely removed from your milk once you eliminate it from your diet.  If you do eliminate dairy, make sure to eliminate it for at least 3 weeks.  Watch your baby closely and if colic does significantly improve this could be the cause.  After 3 weeks, you can try to reintroduce a small amount of hard cheese to your diet.  If this is tolerated well for a week, attempt soft cheese and/or cultured dairy such as yogurt.  Again, small amounts only!  If this is tolerated, you can then try adding in butter, ice cream, etc.  The last thing to add back in would be milk.

How long will colic last?

Though any length of time of caring for a baby who cries inconsolably is too long, colic usually goes away by the time a baby is four months.  The day in and day out until this point can be stressful, tedious, time consuming, and incredibly difficult but take heart that your tender love and nurturing are better than leaving your baby to be in pain alone.  Breastfeeding is much better than weaning when he is in pain and truly does want his mother’s love and touch.  And, though the days may be long, this period won’t last forever and then breastfeeding and caring for your baby should become much easier!

Show 1 footnote

  1. Wessel, M.A., et al. (1954) Paroxysmal fussing in infancy, sometimes called colic. Pediatrics 22(3): 328-334.
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