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, or want more stimulation 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, and active grimacing or "painful" look on the face.

What causes colic?

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

  • Gas (air swallowed while nursing or crying)
  • Reflux (bringing up) of stomach contents
  • Food allergies
  • Milk-protein intolerance
  • Maternal or family tension

What are the symptoms of colic?

Colicky babies have periods of inconsolable crying--sometimes for hours without stopping--and are difficult to comfort. 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.

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