Infant Colic

Crying is something that all babies do. In fact, it is considered normal for a healthy baby to cry up to 2 hours a day during the first few months of life.

When a baby’s crying becomes excessive and occurs for no apparent reason, the condition may be described as colic. Healthcare providers generally define colic as:

  • Occurring during a baby’s first few months of life

  • Crying that lasts for more than 3 hours at least 3 days of the week

  • Crying that is high-pitched, and that may be more intense and louder than usual

Experts don’t know for sure what causes colic. But they do know it does not mean your baby is rejecting you or manipulating you. And you are not doing anything wrong.

The healthcare provider will examine your baby to check for an underlying cause of the crying. If your baby is diagnosed with colic, no medical treatment is needed. The provider will talk with you about ways to calm and soothe your baby. He or she will also give you tips on how to cope with your baby’s condition and how to get support, if needed.

In most cases, colic goes away after a baby is 4 months old. 

Home care

There are some specific things that you can do to help your baby and yourself until colic ends. These are described below.

Feeding methods

  • Allow about 20 minutes for each feeding and about 2 hours between feedings.

  • Don’t feed your baby every time he or she cries. This would result in over-feeding.

  • Burp your baby after each 1-ounce of formula or each 5 minutes of breastfeeding.

  • Always hold your baby when feeding him or her. Don’t “prop the bottle” to feed an infant lying down. This can cause too much air swallowing.

Diet changes

  • If you are breastfeeding, try to change your own diet. Don't have caffeine (coffee, tea, cola), chocolate, onions and garlic, milk and milk products or eggs.

  • Formula-fed infants may find a change in formula helpful. But don’t change formula without first discussing it with the provider. Too many changes can make colic worse.

Comforting your baby

  • Go to your baby soon after the crying starts. Figure out if your baby is hungry, needs a clean diaper, or wants to be in a different position.

  • If this doesn’t help, then try to comfort your baby by calming or distracting him or her for 20 minutes. Some babies respond better to soothing. Others respond best to distracting methods.

    • Soothing. Hold your baby close to your body (consider a front baby-carrier) and walk or rock while talking softly to him/her. Or lay your baby tummy-down on your lap, supported with your hands, and rock your legs side to side. A warm bath, rocking cradles, and infant swings may also work.

    • Stimulating. Try bouncing motions, music, body contact, or change environments. Or take your baby out for a walk or car ride. This may help change your baby’s mood.

  • If your baby is still crying after 20 minutes of comforting, lay the infant in the crib and leave the room (but not your house).

  • Let your child cry for up to 20 minutes. Go back and start the cycle over as often as needed until your baby falls asleep. If you are consistent with this, it gives your baby a chance to learn ways of self-comforting (finger sucking, staring at hands, etc.).

Support for Parents

  • Don’t take the crying personally. Your baby is not mad at you! You are not doing anything wrong.

  • Take a break. Caring for a baby with colic is very hard work. Find a caring babysitter, family member, or friend who can give you or your partner at least an hour a day for yourselves outside the home.

  • Join a parent support group. This can help to talk with other parents having similar problems.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as directed.

When to seek medical advice

Unless your baby’s healthcare provider advises otherwise, call the provider right away if:

  • Your babyhas a fever (see Fever and children, below)

Also call the provider right away if:

  • Your baby has an unusual change in crying pattern or behavior.

  • Your baby is having trouble feeding, refuses to eat, or stops gaining weight.

  • Your baby has vomiting that won’t stop.

  • Your baby has ongoing diarrhea or constipation.

  • Your baby has blood in the stool or vomit (black or red color).

  • You think your baby has stomach pain. (For instance, your baby may keep drawing the legs up to the chest while crying.)

  • You feel you are losing your temper and are afraid you might harm your baby. Never shake your baby. Shaking will not stop the crying. It can cause blindness, brain damage, and even death.

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child age 3 to 36 months:

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear temperature of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit (axillary) temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child of any age:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old. Or a fever that lasts for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.

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