How Do You Know if Your Baby Has Colic?

Reviewed on 6/8/2021

Colic in babies
Colic is also known as infantile colic and excessive crying syndrome.  Other symptoms of colicky babies include clenching their fists, a bloated abdomen, and more.

Crying is the only way through which a newborn expresses their needs, demands, or discomforts. During the first three months of their life, babies can cry for up to two hours a day. However, if the baby has colic, they will exhibit a special pattern of crying. Babies with colic are healthy, eat well, and grow, but cry in spells. The spells occur at the same time of the day, mostly in the evenings. If the baby has colic, they are more likely to exhibit the following patterns:

  • The baby cries for no apparent reason. For instance, they would cry even after being fed or even when their diaper is not soiled.
  • The cry is equivalent to screaming.
  • The baby cries for three hours or more each day, more than three days a week, and for at least three weeks.
  • The baby starts to cry in the evening or at the same time every day.
  • They cannot be soothed, even when rocking or feeding them.

Other symptoms of colicky babies include

  • Clenching their fists
  • Bending their arms and legs toward their abdomen
  • Having a bloated abdomen
  • Having a red, flushed face when they cry
  • Passing gas while they shed tears, often because they have swallowed air
  • Tightening their abdominal muscles

When Should You Call a Doctor?

Consult a doctor if the child shows the following symptoms:

  • Difficult to soothe, even for a few minutes
  • Does not like to be held or touched
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Has diarrhea or blood in the stool
  • Throws up
  • Fever of 100.4 °F or more
  • Does not feed well
  • Does not suck when taking a bottle or breast
  • Less active than usual
  • Losing or not gaining weight

What Are the Complications of Colic?

As such, colic does not cause any short-term or long-term medical problems for a child. Colic can be stressful for parents. Research has shown an association between colic and the following issues in relation to parental well-being:

  • Increased chances of postpartum depression in mothers
  • Early weaning of the child
  • Feelings of guilt, exhaustion, and helplessness

In some cases, the stress of calming a crying baby may prompt the parents to shake or otherwise harm their child. Shaking a baby can have severe implications. It may damage their brain and even cause death.

How to Treat Colic in Babies

There is no treatment to get rid of colic. However, there are ways to help soothe the baby and reduce their crying.

If breastfeeding the baby

  • Keep a record of eating and drinking. Everything the mother drinks or consumes can get passed on to the baby.
  • Avoid caffeine and chocolate.
  • Avoid dairy products and nuts in case the baby is allergic to them.
  • Ask the doctor about any medications that may trigger this problem.

If feeding formula milk

  • Try a different brand if the current brand seems to cause problems.
  • Avoid feeding the baby too much or too quickly. One bottle feeding should last about 20 minutes.
  • Warm the formula to body temperature.
  • Try to feed the baby in an upright position.

Soothing strategies may include

  • Walking around with or rocking the baby
  • Swaddling the baby in a blanket
  • Using a pacifier
  • Going for a car ride by placing the infant in an infant car seat in the back of the car
  • Giving the baby a warm bath
  • Rubbing the infant's abdomen or placing the baby on their abdomen for a back rub
  • Playing quiet, soothing sounds
  • Dimming the lights

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Reviewed on 6/8/2021
References
WebMD. Colic Symptoms Explained. https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/colic-symptoms

Kids Health. Colic. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/colic.html

Mayo Clinic. Colic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/colic/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20371081

American Academy of Family Physicians. Colic. https://familydoctor.org/condition/colic/