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Infant Colic

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 1, 2023.

What is infant colic?

Infant colic is a condition that causes a healthy infant to cry often and for long periods of time. Crying often starts in late afternoon or early evening. Infant colic may affect babies during their first weeks of life. It usually goes away by the time the baby is 4 to 6 months old.

What causes infant colic?

The exact cause of infant colic is not known. The following may increase your baby's risk for infant colic:

  • An allergy to the milk formula he or she is drinking
  • GERD (acid and food in the stomach back up into the esophagus)
  • Gas, which may be caused by swallowing too much air during a feeding
  • Sensitivity to normal noise, movement, or changes around him or her
  • Allergic reaction to something his or her mother ate and passed through breast milk
  • His mother smokes cigarettes
  • A parent who is stressed, anxious, or depressed

What are the signs and symptoms of infant colic?

  • High-pitched crying sounds or screaming as if he or she is in great pain
  • Baby cannot be soothed
  • Flushed or red face
  • Kicking or moving more than usual
  • Abdomen that looks or feels hard
  • Pulling his or her legs up close to his or her abdomen

How is infant colic diagnosed?

Your baby's healthcare provider will ask you about his or her health since birth. Tell him or her when your baby cries, eats, sleeps, and has bowel movements. His or her healthcare provider may want to know if anyone in your family has allergies. A physical exam will also be done. Your baby will be weighed to check if he or she is gaining enough weight.

How can I manage infant colic?

There is no treatment for colic. The following are ways you may be able to comfort and soothe your baby:

  • Help your baby rest and get plenty of sleep. Let your baby rest and get plenty of sleep in a quiet room. He or she may relax if you play lullabies or other soft music.
  • Try the following:
    • Swaddle him or her snugly in a light blanket. Your baby's healthcare provider can show you how to swaddle him or her.
      Swaddle Your Baby
    • Side or stomach placement can help relieve gas. Lay your baby on his or her side or stomach in a safe place.
    • Shush your baby loudly, or play white noise for him or her. White noise can come from a clothes dryer, white noise machine, or a vacuum cleaner.
    • Swing your baby with gentle, soothing motions to comfort him or her. You may rock him or her in a rocking chair or cradle, or put him or her in a swing. You may also take a car ride with your baby or carry him or her in a front-pack.
    • Sucking on something such as a pacifier may help.
  • Be patient and stay calm. It can be very stressful listening to your baby cry for long periods. Take time for yourself to help you better cope with your baby's colic. Ask someone that you trust to care for your baby so you can leave the home, even if it is only for an hour or two. Ask your spouse, a friend, or a relative for help with child care and household chores. Never shake your baby. Shaking your baby can hurt him or her and cause brain damage.

What can I do to help prevent colic?

  • Change your baby's milk or the foods you eat. You may need to change your baby's formula if he or she has an allergy. If you breastfeed your baby, you may need to avoid foods such as milk, cheese, wheat, and nuts. These foods may cause your baby to develop an allergy. Ask your baby's healthcare provider for more information.
  • Hold your baby upright while you feed him or her a bottle. This will help your baby swallow less air from the bottle. You could also try using a curved bottle or a bottle with collapsible bags to decrease the amount of air he or she swallows.
  • Burp your baby after each feeding. This helps remove gas from your baby's stomach.
  • Do not give your baby a bottle every time he or she cries. A baby may cry for many reasons. Check to see if the baby is in a cramped position, is too hot or cold, or has a dirty diaper. Only feed your baby if you think he or she is hungry. Do not feed him or her just to make him or her stop crying. This may cause overfeeding. Overfeeding means your baby gets too many calories during a feeding. This may cause him or her to gain weight too fast.
  • Do not add cereal to the bottle. Overfeeding can also happen if you add cereal to your baby's bottle. Overfeeding can cause him or her to gain weight too fast. Your baby learn to overeat later in life.

When should I call my baby's doctor?

  • Your baby has trouble breathing or his or her lips and fingernails turn blue.
  • Your baby is not able to eat or drink.
  • Your baby is urinating less or not at all.
  • Your baby looks very weak, sleeps more than usual, and is hard to wake up.
  • Your baby's bowel movement has blood in it.
  • Your baby has a fever.
  • Your baby's skin has swelling or a rash.
  • You have questions or concerns about your baby's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your baby's care. Learn about your baby's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your baby's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your baby. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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