We all know that babies cry, and some will cry more than others. But when do we know if their crying is becoming excessive?
Colic is excessive crying in a baby with no obvious cause. During these episodes, it is very hard to console the baby. This intense crying occurs regularly over at least a few weeks and is more common at night.
Colic can start as early as 2 weeks of age and is the worst at 6 weeks. It often disappears by age 5 months.
Causes of colic
The exact cause of colic is not known. Colic-like crying can be caused by certain common problems, including hair or thread becoming tightly wound around an infant’s toe or finger.
Colic is most common in babies 2 weeks to 4 months old. Other factors that increase your baby’s chance for colic include:
- Mother smoking during pregnancy or after birth
- Sensitive temperament
These symptoms may be caused by colic or other discomforts. Some may not require medical care. Talk to your doctor if your baby is having symptoms such as:
- Loud crying that may last for several hours
- Inability to be consoled
- Turning red from crying
- Pulling arms and legs toward body and then stretching limbs out
- Passing gas or burping due to swallowing air while crying
You will be asked about your baby’s medical history and symptoms. A physical exam will be done. Your baby’s weight or weight change will also be checked. Let the doctor know how your baby acts during colic, how long colic lasts, and when it occurs. The doctor will consider other conditions that may cause inconsolable crying, such as:
- Allergic reactions or hypersensitivity to certain formulas, lactose intolerance, or gas
- Feeding problems
- Problems with sleep cycles or processing things in the environment
- Illness such as an ear infection
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Blockage of the intestinal tract
To help determine if your baby has colic or another condition, your doctor may ask:
- Is your baby eating well?
- Is your baby producing 6 to 8 very wet diapers each day?
- Is your baby producing stool normally?
- Is your baby having colic-free periods?
- Does your baby have a fever?
A treatment plan will be chosen based on your baby’s condition. Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment that cures colic. There are, however, steps you can take to help reduce the discomfort your baby feels.
Support for baby
Make changes during feeding time:
- If breastfeeding, consider making changes to the mother’s diet. This may include avoiding cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, and fish.
- If bottle-feeding, consider changing which formula is used. Make sure to warm the formula before giving it to your baby.
- Bottle feedings may need to be slowed down. Try using a nipple with a smaller hole.
- Burp your baby well after feeding.
- Feed your baby in a more upright position. This position will keep gas in your baby's stomach. Gas in the stomach is more easily burped up.
Other strategies that may help include:
- Take your baby for a walk or for a ride in the car. Try a baby-safe swing.
- Position your baby on the tummy, across your lap. Gently rub your baby's back.
- Consider learning baby massage.
- Swaddle your baby in a soft blanket.
- Rock your baby in a rocking chair or in your arms. Hold your baby close and bounce or walk gently.
- Bathe your baby in warm water.
- Let your baby use a pacifier.
- Make sure your baby isn’t too warm or cold.
- Try skin-to-skin contact.
Support for parents
It is upsetting to see your baby crying and not be able to help. The high-pitched crying of a colicky baby is also difficult for anyone to listen to. Try to keep in mind that most babies with colic are healthy. Most will outgrow colic by 3-4 months of age. Know that it is not your fault that the baby does not stop crying. To help you get through this period consider:
- Taking some time to distract yourself from the intensity of the crying. Place your baby in a safe crib and go to a nearby room to watch television or listen to music.
- Taking a break. Ask your family members, friends, or a sitter to help care for your baby.
If you ever feel angry or violent towards the baby, put your baby in a safe place and step out of the room. Call someone for help right away, like your doctor. There are many services available to help you deal with your emotions. The doctor can refer you to these services.