Colic in infants

Colic is the name for excessive, frequent crying in a baby who appears to be otherwise healthy. It's a common problem that affects up to one in five babies.

Colic tends to begin when a baby is a few weeks old. It normally stops by four months of age, or by six months at the latest.

Looking after a colicky baby can be very frustrating and distressing, but the problem will eventually pass and is usually nothing to worry about.

Signs and symptoms of colic include:

  • Your baby often starts crying suddenly. The cry is high-pitched and nothing you do seems to help.
  • The crying begins at the same time each day, often in the afternoon or evening.
  • Your baby might draw their legs up when they cry.
  • Your baby might clench their hands.
  • Your baby's face might flush.
  • The crying can last for minutes or hours. A baby with colic cries for 3 hours a day or more.
  • The crying often winds down when your baby is exhausted or when they have passed wind or poo.

Crying is not always a sign of colic. Other reasons that babies cry include having a wet nappy, being hungry, too hot or cold, or in pain.

Advice for parents/carers

Caring for a baby with colic can be very difficult for parents, particularly first-time parents. It's important to remember that:

  • your baby's colic is not your fault – it doesn't mean your baby is unwell, you're doing something wrong, or your baby is rejecting you
  • your baby will get better eventually – colic normally stops before they're four to six months old
  • you should look after your own wellbeing – if possible, ask friends and family for support as it's important to take regular breaks and get some rest

Support groups, such as Cry-sis, can also offer help and advice if you need it.

You can contact the Cry-sis helpline for advice on 0845 122 8669 (9am-10pm, seven days a week).

What should you do?

There's no method that works for all babies with colic, but there are a number of techniques that may help. These include:

  • Holding your baby in an upright position, to help stop your baby swallowing air during feeding
  • If you are breastfeeding, allow your baby to finish one breast before you offer the second
  • If you are bottle feeding, make sure that the hole in the nipple is not too large. Try to avoid feeding your baby too quickly. You can buy special teats that are designed to stop air getting into the feed.
  • Burping your baby after feeds
  • Gently rocking your baby over your shoulder, or try driving around in the car
  • Bathing your baby in a warm bath
  • Gently massaging your baby's tummy

Some babies may also benefit from changes to their diet, such as adding drops to breast or bottle milk that aid digestion and release any bubbles of trapped air in your baby's digestive system. You should speak to a GP or pharmacist for advice before trying these.

If you are worried about your baby, you should see your doctor. They will check whether there is anything wrong that is causing your baby to cry. Always see your doctor if your baby has a high temperature, is being sick (vomiting) more forcefully than normal, has very runny or watery stool, or if their pattern of crying changes suddenly.

What is colic?

Babies who have colic are not ill, but they cry a lot more than babies usually do. Colic usually starts when a baby is a few weeks old and stops at 4 or 5 months. No one knows what causes it.

For some babies, colic may be a sign of a food allergy, for example sensitivity to cow's milk. Here are other things that may trigger colic:

  • If the baby is being breast-fed, some types of food or drink eaten by the mother might set it off. Examples include: chocolate, eggs, citrus fruits, caffeine (found in coffee, tea, cola and energy drinks), and some seafood.
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke, both during pregnancy and after the baby is born. Colic is twice as common in babies of mothers who smoke
  • Fast bottle feeding, or not being burped enough after feeding.This might mean the baby is taking in too much air, which can lead to wind and painful cramps. If your baby feeds in less than 20 minutes, the hole in the bottle's teat might be too large.

Your doctor may diagnose colic if your baby cries a lot, but is otherwise generally well and gaining weight. Colic doesn't mean you are doing anything wrong as a parent. And colic won't harm your baby.

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