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How to Identify and Deal With Colic in Infants (With Potential Causes)

Causes of Colic in Infants

Causes of Colic in Infants

I’ve been there: uncontrollable crying, throwing arms and legs, a baby that squirms a lot and looks extremely uncomfortable, and nothing that you can do to make it better. It’s gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. You just know you did something wrong, and you can’t figure out how to fix it. If you just knew your baby better or could understand what he or she was trying to tell you.

You’ve tried everything. You've shushed until your lips were numb; you’ve rocked and sung and bounced until your arms were shaking and your back was killing you, and you desperately wish you had the answer. The swing didn’t work, the vacuum cleaner didn’t work, a bath didn’t work, and not even food or a new diaper calmed them down. Could this be something more than just crying?

What Is Colic?

Colic is essentially when a baby cries incessantly for no reason. Obviously babies cry for a variety of reasons: hunger, tiredness, pain, a need to be close, or a need to be changed. However, when all of these needs have been met and yet your baby continues to cry, and this happens day in and day out, he or she probably has colic.

Colic typically only afflicts babies from birth through about three or four months of age. If your little one has it, know that it will eventually go away on its own. Colic is more detrimental to parents who feel guilty, helpless, or just want to console their babies, than it is to the babies themselves. There are no records of colic leaving any lasting damage to a child.

What Does Colic Look Like?

Doctors typically use something called “The Rule of Threes” to determine whether a baby is truly colicky. Let’s look at the five Rule of Threes characteristics to get a better idea of what having a colicky baby really means.

  • Begins within the first three weeks of life
  • Lasts at least three hours a day
  • Occurs at least three days a week
  • Continues for at least three weeks
  • Seldom lasts longer than three months

“Colicky babies don't just fuss; they hurt. They shriek in agonizing discomfort. High-need babies respond to lots of holding and comforting, but almost nothing works for colic." (AskDrSears) There are a few things to take note of to determine if colic is what you are seeing. Colicky babies typically cry about the same time every day and apparently for no reason at all. The crying is usually so hard and lasts for so long that the baby’s face will turn red.

These babies are suffering from pain; typically stomach pain. You’ll likely see their little stomaches swell when they are crying and you’ll see them arch their backs and clench their fists. It’s likely just a gas or indigestion problem. You may see your baby stretch their legs (or pull them up to their chest), and pass gas during their crying spells. (MedicalNewsToday)

Unfortunately, colic frequently interrupts eating and sleeping patterns. These babies may have intense bouts of crying in the middle of meals and it may even wake them up. If you’ve ever had kidney stones, the feeling for your baby is likely very similar and very painful.

Causes of Colic in Infants

Causes of Colic in Infants

How Do I Know If My Baby Has Colic?

If you have to ask, then the answer is likely no. Colic is very distressing for both the parents and the baby. Colic literally means “pain in the colon.” So far there have been no specific cures or remedies for this condition.

You heard me right. Doctors simply don’t know what causes perfectly healthy babies to sudden cry like they’re on fire and keep on crying until you think there will never be an end. By crying, I don’t mean fussing and squirming, I mean all out, crying over-drive. If you’ve heard it before, you know what I mean.

Have you tried the solutions for Calming a Fussy Baby? He or she may simply have one of the five needs of babies that might make them cry and you haven’t tried everything yet. If you think you might have a colicky baby, check out some of the online support groups of moms with colicky babies. 90% of parents that visit one of those sites quickly realizes that they don’t, in fact, have a baby with colic.

Am I Doing Something to Cause It?

Nobody really knows the causes of colic, however there are many theories. One of those is that the baby’s digestion system isn’t fully developed and is sensitive. Some think that there may be something in the mother’s breast milk or in the baby formula that the baby is allergic to, or that is causing digestion problems. Lactose or milk allergies may produce the same effect as colic. You’ll also see a similar effect if you eat really spicy foods during breast feeding.

The likely cause is gas or indigestion, due to the lack of sufficient enzymes or digestive juices in a baby’s system, to adequately handle the proteins or other substances in the food you are feeding. Excessive crying causes babies to swallow air, which may contribute to gasiness, or a full belly after eating with or without effective burping, or the need to have a bowel movement can also add to an excess in gas in your little one’s belly.

Once again, nobody truly knows what causes colic and why some babies get it and some don’t. Colic is unbiased when it comes to the sex of the baby, when he or she was born in relation to pregnancy length, or even whether he or she is breast-fed or formula-fed. The only link researchers have to colic in infants is whether or not the mother smoked during pregnancy.

One way or another, the baby is in pain and upset. “These babies just can't handle any more sights, sounds, or sensations, and they cry to blow off steam.” (BabyCenter) The only suggestion I have is to avoid eating foods when breast-feeding that could cause additional gas in your baby. Some of these foods include anything with caffeine, spicy foods, orange juice, onions, cabbage, apples, plums, and beans.

What Can I Do to Stop It?

Seeing as how colic isn’t completely understood by health professionals, the only real suggestion is to follow the soothing techniques you’ve already learned in my article on Calming a Fussy Baby. Many of these include:

  • Swaddling Your Baby—Many babies feel comforted when wrapped or held tightly.
  • Loud Monotonous Sounds—Shushing, a vacuum cleaner, a hair dryer, the vent fan over the stove, and even singing can calm your little one by reminding him or her of being in your womb.
  • Monotonous Movements—Swinging, rocking, and bouncing are all close reminders of your womb.
  • Being Close—Carrying your little one in a wrap, a sling, or even a baby backpack will hold you baby tightly against your body allowing them to enjoy not only closeness but your body heat, your natural sounds, and your movements. Skin-on-skin is great for babies too!
Causes of Colic in Infants

Causes of Colic in Infants

Before there’s even a need to soothe your little one, try some of these preventative measures to make sure there’s never a problem in the first place.

  • Try feeding your baby differently—Sitting up a little straighter can help, eating a little slower instead of gulping can help, and it may be the bottle or nipple causing the problems. Sucking in air during feeding is very common for babies. If you’re not using the right bottle for your little one, he or she may be drinking just as much air as formula.
  • Burping—If gas is the culprit, Burping Your Baby Successfully can help. There is more than one way to burp your little one. Maybe the way you are choosing isn’t right for the baby you’re caring for. Try a few different approaches and you might find a way that works best for both of you, and it can help with the gas a little.
  • Changing the food—It may just be that they are allergic or aren’t adequately digesting the food that they are eating. It may just need to be a little watered down, or you may just need to try and change it altogether. This also relates to breast-feeding moms and their diets. Try changing your diet to see if it makes a difference.
  • Massage or exercise—Giving your baby a warm bath, a full body massage, or a little bit of exercise could help the gas move along. Try the baby-bicycle, laying your baby on his back and pumping his legs like he’s riding a bike. He will do this naturally to get rid of gas, but you can help it along a little.
  • Talk to your doctor—Many pediatricians have suggestions for babies with indigestion, like herbal teas, gripe water, or anti-gas drops.

When it comes right down to it, colic is not your fault. There may be some easy fixes that will help to relieve the pain your baby is going through, but ultimately you did not do this to your little one. If for some reason you are concerned that you did, by like dropping her or giving her something you weren’t sure about, get to a doctor fast. But 20% of perfectly healthy babies across the United States regardless of birth weight, race, maturity at birth, or any other factor, get colic every year.

Make sure that you don’t take it personally, that you get help so you are not dealing with this alone, and do your very best to help, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s working. It is. Your baby knows you love him or her and you are doing your best. Keep paying attention and watching your baby closely, and one of these days, possibly with the help of your doctor, you’ll figure it out. In the end, if it really is colic, it will go away by itself after three or four months.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Victoria Van Ness


Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on January 08, 2014:

Absolutely! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for the wonderful comment and the compliment!

branded Mouse Mats on July 10, 2013:

What a good blog you have here. Please update it more often. This topics is my interest. Thank you.

Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on July 09, 2013:

I'm glad you like it! Don't stop with this one. I've got tons more articles just like it you'll love. Keep reading! :)

Jason Roiz from Delhi on July 08, 2013:

Really its a great hub on colic in infants .

Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on July 08, 2013:

That's really interesting. I would never have thought to consider a chiropractor for an infant. Nice information. Thank you!

Dr. Patrick V. Suglia from Denver, PA on July 08, 2013:

Actually, most cases of colic I've ever seen resolved with just one visit to the chiropractor's office. I remember one such parent when I still lived in Minnesota who brought her three-month-old son to me who was on every medication under the sun for his colic. After somebody told her to take him to a chiropractor. So she came to me. One adjustment was all it took. I found that his C1 vertebra was misaligned causing pressure to be placed on his Vagus nerve. That one visit was all that was necessary for the colic to totally resolve.

Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on July 08, 2013:

Wow. That's a lot of information. :) Thanks. I love hearing your thoughts, ideas, and appreciation. I really appreciate it.

Mohan Kumar from UK on July 08, 2013:

Well deserved HOTD on this informative and well written article. As you rightly point out infant colic is self remitting and goes away in 3-4 month.s. But these 3-4 months can be really stressful for parents who may worry there is something wrong with the child. Recent research has shown Reflux rarely causes pain and that there is no difference in occurrence breast or bottle fed babies. 95% of colicky babies have no underlying disease which is really reassuring once we get past the distress of handling crying baby ( I know, I've been there with my three!) I find a calm reassured parent who is able to soothe the child is a great relief. All too often people ( including soem doctors) want to change things- they change milks, try medication etc... this can cause more problems and disrupt the babies progress. Only time they need any treatment for reflux is if they are vomiting constantly and losing weight in which case they need A PAediatrician assessment. thankfully only 5% have any underlying problem like constipation or reflux. Supportive therapists and family Doctors can be a great help! thanks again for a good article.

Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on July 08, 2013:

Me too! Thank you!

Joey from Michigan on July 08, 2013:

Helpful hub and thanks for all the info on colic. I had a couple colicky babies and it was heartbreaking to see them cry so hard. I think laying down eating would be difficult for digestion so I like the upright position tip. Also, certain formulas like soy are hard on the digestive system and I don't know why they even offer that to anyone as a food source. Hope this helps lots of stressed out parents.

Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on July 08, 2013:

Thank you both so much! I'm curious why this Hub, out of all of my others, did so famously. :)

Carly Sullens from St. Louis, Missouri on July 08, 2013:

Congratulations on HOTD! This is a well written article on colic. I hope parents who are experiencing this can find this article and find comfort in the information you thoroughly outlined. Voted up and shared.

rose-the planner from Toronto, Ontario-Canada on July 08, 2013:

Congratulations on HOTD, well deserved! This was a very insightful article on the causes of Colic in infants. I have known a few couples that have had to deal with this issue and it was very difficult. One couple found that the only thing that would pacify their baby was to take him for a drive, believe it or not, lol. I suppose the motion made the little guy feel better. Great article! Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on July 08, 2013:

Nice. I didn't know that either. Thanks!

Schatzie Speaks on July 08, 2013:

Also, if you have a really strong let-down the baby may not be able to handle the heavy flow of milk and gulp in a bunch of air and choke while feeding. Signs of this are clicking noises or choking/gulping sounds. Different positions where the baby's head is above the breast, the baby is nursing by your side as you lie down, or the baby is lying on top while feeding may be helpful in this case. But the dairy milk allergy or indigestion should definitely be emphasized, it's been a problem in at least one child for every parent I know! Cutting out milk (it takes up to 2 weeks to get out of your system entirely, so I've heard) has turned screaming infants into happy, smiley babies, and I have seen this first-hand.

Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on July 08, 2013:

Thank you all for your supportive comments! I was wondering how to get a HOTD. I guess you just keep writing great articles and one day you will be rewarded! Thank you Dreamer Meg for your great addition. I didn't know that handy piece of information, but it definitely makes sense. :)

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on July 08, 2013:

Nice hub on colic in infants and what to do to stop it. It was a good read. Congrats on your HOTD award.

JR Krishna from India on July 08, 2013:

Congratulations on the hub of the day

Very detailed article on infant colic

It is very helpful for new mothers.

Marsha on July 08, 2013:

I'm testing this to see if my friends can check out hubpages and comment if they don't want to start an account here.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on July 08, 2013:

My granddaughter had this. It seems that she had reflux (her father and uncle also had this) and colic. These are two different problems. What helped her was (a) being fed upright (as you said) and then being kept upright for 40 minutes after a feed and (b) lying on her stomach in her cot when put down to sleep. I know that all the rules say "don't lay the baby on their stomach" but this really does help babies with reflux. We kept a careful eye on her when sleeping. The other problem of colic appears to be caused when the breastfed baby gets only the foremilk and not the hind milk. This means they have not fed long enough on one side. The fore milk and hind milk have different constitutions and the baby needs both so as not to have colic (in a colicky baby). By ensuring that the baby fed long on one side, so the hind milk also came down, the baby was less likely to suffer colic.

Go-Barbara-Go from Philippines on July 08, 2013:

My daughter on her 0 - 4 months had this condition. Later, the doctor said it has something to do with her digestive system. He prescribed a formula with no sugar content, and that solved the problem. This article helps all mothers out there who have the same problem as mine.

Great hub!

Thelma Alberts from Germany on July 08, 2013:

Congrats on the HOTD! I wish I had known this information when I had my baby in the 80´s. I´m sure this is a great help for new mothers out there. Thanks for sharing.

Mrs Frugal from United States on July 08, 2013:

Congrats on Hub Of The Day!!! Hope your day is wonderful!

Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on June 23, 2013:

Thanks! On a baby kick this week I guess. Lol I'm glad you liked it.

Dil Vil from India on June 23, 2013:

Informative article, i have learnt a new thing today. Thanks for the same, great work!