Babies are champion criers. It’s one of the things they do best—that is, when they’re not sleeping, eating, or melting your heart. But some newborns cry louder and longer than others—even when they’re not hungry, tired, or in need of a diaper change. Colic is often to blame for these tearful episodes. Still, you should contact your baby’s doctor any time that you are concerned about your baby’s behavior.
What Is Colic?
Colic is a behavioral pattern of excessive crying with no known cause. Colic tends to follow a pattern of threes: crying for more than three hours a day (usually in the evening), for more than three days a week, and for more than three weeks.
What Are The Symptoms Of Colic In Babies?
If your baby has colic, they may pull their legs up to their belly, arch their back, stiffen their limbs, pass gas, and have a tense, bloated belly. These behaviors—punctuated by inconsolable crying—typically start a few weeks after birth, peak around week six, and mercifully go away on their own by an infant’s third or fourth month.
What Causes Colic?
Experts aren’t sure what causes colic or why certain babies experience it while others do not. There are some theories, though. Contributing factors that may cause colic include:
- An immature nervous system. A widely held belief is that a colicky baby’s immature nervous system isn’t yet able to handle the sights, sounds, and stimulation of life outside the womb. The prolonged periods of crying are an infant’s way of self-consoling and coping with overwhelming stimuli.
- A sensitive or immature digestive system. The word colic comes from the Greek word kolikos, which means colon. Some theories suggest that colic occurs when food moves too quickly through a baby's digestive system or is incompletely digested. It is true that colicky babies are often gassy. What isn’t clear is whether the gassiness leads to colic or colicky babies become gassy because they swallow so much air while crying.
- An allergy to cow's milk protein. Colic, or inconsolable crying, is a hallmark issue of a common childhood food allergy called cow’s milk allergy. One to two percent of children have a milk allergy. A formula-fed infant with cow’s milk allergy may react to milk protein found in routine infant formulas. A breastfed baby can be exposed to cow’s milk protein fragments in their mother’s diet (it can be passed in breast milk). Cow’s milk protein allergy in breastfed babies is rare; if it is diagnosed, the mother’s diet is generally altered so they can continue nursing. In addition to colic, babies with cow’s milk allergy also may have reflux, diarrhea, constipation, gas, skin rashes, and upper respiratory problems. A smaller number have more severe problems, such as breathing difficulties, rectal bleeding, hives or rashes, and anemia.
- Reflux. Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD is often mistaken for colic. Infants who have GERD may frequently spit up lots of liquid, forcefully vomit, choke or gag, arch away from the bottle or breast, seem irritable during or after feedings, or have trouble putting on weight.
- Exposure to cigarette smoke. Research suggests that infants are more likely to have colic when their mothers smoke during pregnancy. The chemicals in cigarette smoke may delay the development of an infant’s central nervous system or gastrointestinal system.
How To Soothe A Colicky Baby?
Having a baby who is in tears all of the time is enough to make any parent cry, too. Your doctor can provide suggestions for soothing your colicky baby. Remember, every baby responds differently. You may need to try a variety of techniques before finding the ones that work best for your infant. The following methods are often helpful for soothing a colicky baby:
- Swaddle. Swaddling or wrapping your infant in a thin, large blanket can make them feel more secure. It recreates the feel of the womb. Ask your doctor or nurse to show you how to swaddle your baby so that they can’t wriggle free their arms and legs.
- Try various hold positions. Carry your baby in an infant sling or front carrier on your chest as you walk around. The body contact and motion are calming. To ease gassiness, lay your baby tummy-down across your knees while gently rubbing their back.
- Play calming sounds. Recreate the soothing womb environment via soft music, a white noise machine, a fan, or a sound recording of a heartbeat.
- Use rhythmic motions. Steady movements are soothing. Cradle your baby while rocking them in a chair, place them in a baby swing, or try a vibrating infant seat.
- Pacify. Help your baby find their hand, fingers or thumbs to suck on, or offer a pacifier.
- Massage. Babies love skin-to-skin contact, and studies suggest that infants who are regularly massaged cry and fuss less. Ask your doctor for information about local infant massage classes and discover some easy baby massage tips and techniques to help get you started at home.
- Eliminate potential food allergens. If your doctor suspects cow’s milk allergy and you are breastfeeding, you may need to eliminate dairy from your diet. For a formula-fed infant, your doctor may recommend switching to an extensively hydrolyzed, hypoallergenic formula. Certain reactions, such as colic brought on by cow’s milk allergy, may stop within 48 hours after a formula change.
Should Parents Switch To A Formula For Colic?
Because breast fed babies have similar rates of colic as formula-fed babies, mothers who are breastfeeding should continue breastfeeding.
If you think cow's milk allergy could be causing your little one’s colic, talk to your baby’s doctor about switching to a hypoallergenic formula like Nutramigen® with Enflora™ LGG®. These types of formulas have extensively broken-down protein and the LGG probiotic, which together help manage cow's milk allergy symptoms and help your baby feel better fast.
Experiencing the signs of colic can be frustrating for both you and your little love, but with these tips, hopefully you both can find some quiet and comfort soon.
Do Probiotics Help Ease Colic?
From the moment your baby is born, the presence of beneficial bacteria in their developing digestive system is important. Those bacteria could play important roles in the baby’s digestive system, cognitive function and immune system. If there’s an imbalance of bacteria in your little one’s digestive tract, it may lead to distress. Probiotics for colic may support the balance of the beneficial bacteria in your baby’s tummy to support their digestive system, which may help to ease colic symptoms.
How Long Does Colic Last?
Signs of colic in babies usually appear by two weeks of age and peak at six weeks. Fortunately, it doesn't last long—most infants outgrow colic by four months of age.
Taking care of a colicky infant who cries a lot is exhausting. It’s OK to ask family members and friends for help when you start to feel overwhelmed or to place your wailing baby safely in the crib or infant swing while you take a few minutes to yourself. It might feel as if your baby will cry forever, but other parents can assure you: Colic truly is temporary. You should talk with your doctor again if your baby still shows signs of colic after four months. It’s possible that something else is causing your baby’s tearful behavior.