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Colic

What is colic?
Colic is when an otherwise healthy baby cries more that three hours a day, for more than three days a week, between ages three weeks and three months. The crying usually starts suddenly at about the same time each day. This is actually just an arbitrary definition made years ago [1]. By this definition, a surprising number of babies actually would have colic: some experts have even estimated as many as half of all babies!

If your baby is crying a lot, you should call your doctor. Your pediatrician will want to check your baby to make sure there is no medical reason for the crying. If your baby’s doctor finds no underlying cause, then they will probably say your baby has colic. Colic is perfectly normal, and does not mean there is anything wrong with either baby or parents. It does not have any lasting effects on the child or the mother in later life. [2]

How does a baby with colic act?
The baby’s cry is loud and they may have a red face and a tense, hard belly, because the abdominal muscles tighten with crying. Baby’s legs may be drawn up and fists clenched. This is often just the typical baby crying posture. However, the first time your baby has a long jag of inconsolable crying like this—with a tense, hard belly—you should call your doctor. This can sometimes be a sign of a serious condition that requires medical attention.

How do I know when to get medical help for my baby’s crying?
Call your baby’s doctor or go to the emergency room if:

How does colic affect parents?
It’s really tough to see your baby in this state. You may find yourself getting very upset and worried about your baby. Your stress level may shoot though the roof if the crying and distress go on for hours. You will probably feel resentful and angry toward your baby at times. This is normal. Remember that having a colicky baby does not mean you are a bad parent!

If you find yourself getting stressed out, find ways to “decompress,” and get as much help and support as you can from your co-parent, family members, friends and neighbors. If it just gets to be too much, you can always put your baby in the crib where they will be safe and leave the room to take a break, calm down and take a deep breath.

You will be better able to take care of your high-need baby if you are taking care of yourself! Here are some parent survival tips that may help.

What should I do if I’m so frustrated with the crying that I can’t stand it any more?
One thing you should never do: Never shake your baby. Shaking your baby can cause shaken baby syndrome (SBS). Learn more about SBS, including information in Spanish.

If you reach that level of frustration, put your baby in a safe place like the crib, and walk away. Call a friend or your partner. It can help to talk about what you are feeling.dad holding crying baby

What if I need to get someone to take care of my baby?
Be careful about who cares for your child. (This information is available in Arabic, Bengale, Chinese, Creole, French, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu.) Crying babies are hard to take care of. Make sure anyone who will care for your baby knows what to expect, and knows not to shake the baby. Tell them some of the tricks you've learned to help comfort your child.

What causes colic?
No one is really sure, but there are a few suspected causes, such as intestinal gas, food sensitivity or allergy, or an immature nervous system. This last idea speculates that Baby’s immature nervous system can't handle the stimuli of everyday life, and that crying is their only way of communicating this “overload.” An opposite hypothesis is that Baby needs more stimulation, and gets it through crying. Colic is mysterious, but not harmful to your baby.

What are the popular myths related to colic?
Let’s debunk some of the popular myths about colic. Here are the FACTS:

How can I help my baby relieve their colic distress?
Colic usually starts to improve at about six weeks of age, and is generally gone by the time your baby is 12 weeks old. While you are waiting for that magic resolution, try these techniques to help soothe your infant:

Where can I find more information about colic?
On the Web:

Recommended reading:

References


Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, R.N.  Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan

Updated December 2010

U-M Health System Related Sites:
U-M Pediatrics

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