Dr. Skyler Kaladay discusses soothing colicky babies.

What is colic?

Babies cry for different reasons. Crying is one way babies try to tell us what they need. They may:

  • Be hungry.
  • Have a soiled diaper.
  • Want to be held.
  • Want more or less stimulation.

Although crying is normal for all babies, those with colic cry a great deal, are more difficult to console, have interrupted sleep and can cause parents a lot of anxiety.

If a crying baby cannot be comforted, the cause may be colic. Colic is a word used to describe healthy babies who cry a lot and are hard to comfort. No one knows for sure what causes colic. Colic usually has the following features:

  • Timing: It usually begins at approximately 2 weeks of age and goes away by 4 months of age. Within the day, crying is concentrated in the late afternoon and evening hours.
  • Behavior: Bouts of crying are prolonged and can’t be soothed, even by feeding. The infant usually has the following:
    • Clenched fists.
    • Legs bent over its abdomen.
    • Arching back.
    • A hard, swollen abdomen.
    • Passing of gas.
    • Active grimacing or "painful" look on the face.

How common is colic?

Colic is a common problem, occurring in about one out of 10 infants. It occurs equally in baby boys and baby girls, and usually begins within 10 days to three weeks after birth.

What causes colic?

The cause of colic is unknown. There are, however, several factors that may play a role, including:

What are the symptoms of colic?

Colicky babies are healthy infants who have recurrent periods of inconsolable crying—without apparent reason. These sometimes occur for hours without stopping. The baby can be difficult to comfort during these stretches of time. These periods of fussiness are not linked to hunger or discomfort, and the babies are otherwise normal. They may appear to be in pain. They might arch their backs, clench their fists, or pull their legs up to their tummies. In addition, the baby's face might turn red after a long period of crying. Although the baby is fussy and cries, he or she continues to eat well and gain weight.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/07/2019.

References

  • American Academy of Family Physicians. Colic. Accessed 12/2/2019.
  • Merck Manual. Colic. Accessed 12/2/2019.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy