Welcoming a new baby into your family is always an exciting time, but what happens when your little one starts crying inconsolably, often for hours at a time? It can be frustrating, stressful, and worrisome for parents when they can’t seem to soothe their baby’s discomfort. This is often a sign that your baby has colic. Though colic is something that half of all babies experience, it’s still unclear what causes this mysterious condition. In this article, we’ll explore what colic is, its symptoms, and what parents can do to help their little ones get some much-needed relief.
What is Colic?
Colic is the term used to describe a pattern of excessive crying in babies who are otherwise healthy and well-fed. It’s typically defined as crying for three or more hours a day, for three or more days a week, and lasting for at least three weeks. Colic most commonly affects babies between the ages of two weeks and four months, but it can occur in babies up to one year of age. It’s estimated that 20%-25% of babies experience colic, and it affects both breastfed and formula-fed babies.
Symptoms of Colic
The primary symptom of colic is excessive crying. Babies with colic often cry inconsolably for hours, for no apparent reason. The crying is usually high-pitched, and it can be difficult to soothe the baby. The crying episodes are often worse in the evening, and they usually start and stop suddenly.
Gassy or Fussy Behavior
Colic can also cause babies to become fussy or irritable. They may have trouble settling down, even if they’re tired or hungry. In some cases, babies with colic may seem to be in pain, arching their back, clenching their fists, or pulling their legs up towards their tummy. They may also pass more gas than usual, which can lead to discomfort.
Changes in Sleep Patterns
Babies with colic may experience changes in their sleep patterns. Some may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, while others may sleep for shorter periods than usual. This can result in a baby who is overtired and cranky, which can make the colic symptoms worse.
Beyond crying and fussiness, babies with colic may also have other symptoms, such as a fast heartbeat, rapid breathing, and an increase in bowel movements. However, these symptoms can also be normal in young infants, so they may not always be a sign of colic.
Causes of Colic
The exact cause of colic is unknown, but there are several theories as to what might be contributing to the condition. These include:
Immature Digestive System
Some experts believe that colic is caused by an immature digestive system, which can’t handle the amount of food that babies consume or digest it properly. This theory suggests that babies with colic may be experiencing discomfort from gas, bloating, or constipation.
Sensitivity to Breast Milk or Formula
Another theory is that some babies may have a sensitivity to breast milk or formula that can cause digestive upset and colic symptoms. This could be due to an allergy or intolerance to a specific protein or ingredient in the milk.
Oversensitivity to Stimulation
Some experts believe that colic may be caused by an oversensitivity to stimulation. This theory suggests that colicky babies may be overwhelmed by their new surroundings and the stimulation that comes with it, which can cause them to become fussy and irritable.
Risk Factors for Colic
Colic is most common in babies between the ages of two weeks and four months, although it can occur in babies up to one year of age. After four months, most babies outgrow their colic symptoms and the crying episodes become less frequent and intense.
Boys are slightly more likely than girls to develop colic.
Babies with a family history of colic are more likely to develop the condition themselves.
Bottle Feeding/Formula Feeding
Babies who are bottle-fed or formula-fed may have a slightly higher risk of developing colic than breastfed babies.
Smoking During Pregnancy
Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of colic in babies.
What Can Parents Do?
If your baby has colic, there are several things you can do to help soothe their discomfort:
Check Your Feeding Schedule
Babies who are hungry may become fussy and cry, so make sure your baby is full and satisfied before laying them down to sleep. You may also want to try feeding your baby more often, but in smaller amounts to help reduce any digestive discomfort or gas that could be contributing to their colic symptoms.
Burp Your Baby
Burping your baby after they eat can help to release any trapped gas bubbles in their stomach, which can be uncomfortable for them. Try burping your baby every two to three ounces during feedings.
Use Soothing Techniques
Using soothing techniques can help to calm your baby and reduce their colic symptoms. Try holding your baby close to you and rocking them gently, or using white noise or soft music to help them relax.
Avoid overstimulating your baby by keeping the noise and activity level low when they are tired or fussy.
Ask for Help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Taking care of a colicky baby can be exhausting, but having support from family, friends, or a professional can help to ease the stress of the situation.
When to Call the Doctor
Colic is usually a harmless condition that resolves on its own, but there are some instances when you should call your doctor. These include:
No Improvement in Symptoms
If your baby’s colic symptoms persist beyond four months of age, or if they show no improvement after trying soothing techniques or other remedies, it’s important to speak with your doctor.
Change in Bowel Movements
If your baby’s bowel movements change significantly or become irregular, you should talk to your doctor.
Lack of Weight Gain
If your baby is not gaining weight or is losing weight, this could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition, and you should speak with your doctor immediately.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Q: What does it mean when a baby is colic?
- Q: How long does colic last?
- Q: Does colic only affect breastfed babies?
- Q: What causes colic?
- Q: What can I do to soothe my baby’s colic symptoms?
A: Colic is the term used to describe a pattern of excessive crying in babies who are otherwise healthy and well-fed. It’s typically defined as crying for three or more hours a day, for three or more days a week, and lasting for at least three weeks.
A: Colic typically lasts until a baby is around four months old, although some babies may experience symptoms for up to a year.
A: No, colic can affect both breastfed and formula-fed babies.
A: The exact cause of colic is unknown, but theories suggest that it may be caused by an immature digestive system, sensitivity to breast milk or formula, or oversensitivity to stimulation.
A: Some things you can try include checking your feeding schedule, burping your baby, using soothing techniques, avoiding overstimulation, and seeking help from family or a professional.
- Mayo Clinic. (2020). Colic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/colic/symptoms-causes/syc-20371074
- National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2016). What is Colic? Retrieved from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/colic/conditioninfo/default
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016). Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age Five (7th ed.). Bantam Books.