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What is Colic in Babies?

Most parents would have some experience with colic, whether it’s your own baby, someone in your mum’s group, or your own mother telling you how colicky you were as a baby! In this article, we’ve answered some of the more common questions about colic.

5 mins to read Sep 17, 2021

What is colic?

Colic is an unexplainable unsettled period where your baby is crying for a long time, sometimes for hours, and is inconsolable. The most common definition of colic is crying ≥3 hours per day, on ≥3 days per week for ≥1 week, and that your baby is otherwise thriving and growing well. One of the most important things you can do up front is to see your baby’s doctor, especially if your baby is excessively crying without a clear explanation for it. 

Your doctor will be able to rule out any other cause of the crying before diagnosing colic, which will give you reassurance and support that your baby is otherwise growing healthily.  


How common is colic?

Colic occurs in approximately 20% of infants and is most common during the ages of 1-5 months. As babies grow and develop past this time, infant colic seems to be less common.


What are the symptoms of colic in babies?

Simply put, long periods of unexplained crying and fussiness are the primary symptoms of colic in babies, and feel beyond what you would consider to be ‘normal’. The difficulty in diagnosing colic is that it’s relatively ‘normal’ for babies to fuss and cry – after all it’s one of their main ways to communicate with us.  After checking with your doctor that what your baby is experiencing is colic, trust their support, and lean on family and friends, to help you get through this challenging time.


What are the signs your baby has colic? 

Signs of colic may include:

  • Your happy healthy baby – who up until now has amazed you with their calm nature and regular growth – starts to cry repeatedly throughout the day and several times during the night.
  • Your baby is irritable and is inconsolable and unhappy for longer than normal.
  • During this time, other physical signs might also include your baby going red in the face, clenched fists, an arched back and drawing their knees up to their tummy.

Unfortunately, this can all be normal for colic. However, it’s quite important that you don’t self-diagnose colic – your doctor will be able rule out any serious conditions that may be causing the crying, before diagnosing colic.


What causes colic in babies?

The cause of colic is not quite clear despite scientific efforts to uncover it. In fact, there are many theories and may likely be a multifactorial condition. More recently, it has been identified that colicky babies have an altered microbiota compared to non-colicky baby’s with less good bacteria. Correcting this imbalance using particular lactobacillus probiotics may result in less crying time and colic relief, especially in breastfed infants. Your healthcare professional will be able to guide you on this.


How is colic treated?

Once your doctor diagnoses colic, treatment is naturally the next question. As the cause is not quite clear, the treatment path is also not straightforward. For some, apart from extra comforting that your little one will appreciate, it may be a case of waiting for your little one to grow out of it over time. There are promising results with specific lactobacillus probiotics that have shown reduced crying time in colicky infants, which your healthcare professional can guide you on. 


How can you soothe a baby with colic?

There is nothing we want more than a happy baby, so when you have a colicky baby it can be really hard to bear.  

Here are some tips you can use to help soothe your baby with colic.

  • If breastfeeding, work with your health professional to continue as it can be very comforting.
  • Talk to your doctor about possible treatment options, including specific probiotics that may help ease the crying in colicky infants.
  • Gently massage your baby’s stomach in a clockwise direction, placing a warm towel on their tummy (warmth is excellent for relieving pain).
  • Give your baby a warm bath.
  • If you are bottle-feeding, make sure you follow the directions on pack, and you use the correct scoop and quantities of powder and water. Seek the advice of a healthcare professional before changing infant formulas. 
  • Some babies find sucking calming, and you may find feeding your baby more frequently may help. Just be aware that over-feeding may result in tummy discomfort which won’t ease the crying.
  • Gentle rocking or holding your baby in your arms or in a baby carrier or sling.

Be sure to get the support you need. Remaining calm and soothing your baby the best way you can, will mean more than you think: they’ll feel your love and comfort come through in your gentle touch.


When should you see a doctor for colic?

You should always see a doctor up front if your baby is crying for long periods of time that is unexplainable.  From there, your doctor will be able to rule out any serious conditions or situations which need medical attention and provide advice.