Colic is crying in a baby that lasts for longer than 3 hours a day and is not caused by a medical problem. Colic occurs in almost all babies to varying degrees. Almost all babies go through a fussy period.
About 1 in 5 babies cry long enough to be considered colicky. The timing varies, but colic usually affects babies beginning at about 3 weeks of age. It peaks somewhere between 4 - 6 weeks of age.
The crying associated with colic usually occurs at the end of the day. Babies with colic tend to be unusually sensitive to stimulation. Some babies have more discomfort from intestinal gas. Some cry from hunger, others from overfeeding. Some cannot tolerate certain foods or proteins in breast milk or formula. Fear, frustration, or even excitement can lead to colic symptoms. When other people around the baby are worried, anxious, or depressed, babies may cry more.
Colic eventually goes away. Symptoms begin to improve after about 6 weeks, and are generally gone by 12 weeks. If your baby still has colic at 12 weeks old, you should see a doctor to rule out another condition, such as reflux.
Colic most often begins at the same time every day. Usually, babies with colic are most fussy in the evening.
Colic symptoms often begin suddenly. The baby's hands may be in a fist, the legs may curl up, and the belly may seem swollen. The episode may last for minutes or hours. It often winds down when the baby is exhausted, or when gas or stool is passed.
Despite apparent belly pain, infants with colic eat well and gain weight normally.
Your health care provider can often diagnose colic by asking questions about the baby's medical history and symptoms, including how long the crying lasts.
The health care provider will perform a physical exam to rule out other problems, such as a hernia, intussusception, or other medical problem. Further testing may be needed if the diagnosis is unclear.
Helping a baby with colic involves identifying and avoiding the things that trigger the crying episodes, if possible. It's also important to learn what most comforts your baby.
Possible colic triggers:
TIPS FOR COMFORTING THE BABY
What comforts one child, may not calm another. Some babies like to be wrapped tight in a blanket (swaddled), while others prefer to be free. Try many different things, and pay attention to what seems to help, even just a little bit.
An infant usually outgrows colic by 3 to 4 months of age.
There are usually none.
Call your baby's health care provider if your baby is crying a lot. It is important that other, more serious, conditions are ruled out.
Call your baby's health care provider immediately if:
Do not be afraid to seek help immediately if you feel overwhelmed or have thoughts of harming your baby.
Your baby is likely to have a fussy period, regardless of any type of prevention.
However, good feeding techniques and identification of triggers can be helpful. If you are breastfeeding, talking to a lactation consultant can be helpful.
Learn what comforts your baby before colic may develop. Knowing what calms your baby can help stop the fussy period from becoming so intense.
Herman M, Le A. The crying infant. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2007;25:1137-1159.
This article uses information by permission from Alan Greene, M.D., © Greene Ink, Inc.
Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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