What Is Colic? – Colic in Babies

Colic in Babies: What Is It?

Colic is the term used to describe uncontrollable crying in an otherwise healthy infant during its first three to four months of life. “We typically diagnose colic if the baby is crying at least three hours a day, for three or more days per week and for three weeks or more,” says Dr. Mary Ann Wilkinson. “We don’t know exactly why colic occurs but it is thought that these babies are unusually sensitive to stimuli and are unable to self-console or regulate their nervous systems.”

What Causes Colic: Breastfeeding and Food Intolerance

Sometimes colicky babies are responding to a discomfort in digestion. A colicky baby can be sensitive to foods in the mother’s breast milk, so it may helpful for mothers to eliminate milk products, caffeine, spicy and gas producing foods to see if this improves the baby’s digestion, Dr. Wilkinson suggests. If formula is used, switching to a hypoallergenic formula may be worth a try to decrease gas and ease digestion, she adds.

Colic Symptoms: Breastfeeding and Food Intolerance

The main colic symptom is inconsolable crying:

  • Crying occurs at the same time every day
  • Lasts for more than 3 hours a day
  • Happens more than 3 days a week
  • Occurs for more than 3 weeks

Other colic symptoms are:

  • Screaming
  • Extending or pulling up legs
  • Clenched fists
  • Often will close eyes or open them very wide
  • Eating and sleeping are disrupted by the crying
  • Passing gas
  • Enlarged or distended stomach
  • Arched back

Tips for Coping with Colic

  • Don’t over-feed or under-feed your baby.
  • Make sure to burp the baby well after each feeding.
  • Breastfeeding moms can try to avoid caffeine, milk products, gassy and spicy foods from their diet to avoid passing these onto the baby in the breast milk. Formula fed babies can be given a hypoallergenic formula.
  • Use a pacifier
  • Try various “motion” techniques to soothe the infant, such as walking him around in a baby carrier or stroller, driving him around in the car in his car seat, putting him in a swing or bouncy seat that vibrates, or using “white noise,” from a fan or white noise machine, to soothe him. Swaddle the baby to give him the feeling of being in the womb.
  • Decrease environmental stimuli by turning off TVs, stereos, radios and by turning down the household lights.
  • Get a break. Ask a relative, neighbor, friend or babysitter to watch the baby and get away for a while.

Meet Dr. Wilkinson - CHOC Pediatrician

Dr. Ann Wilkinson is the Chief of Staff at CHOC at Mission Hospital. She completed both her internship and pediatric residency at Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, Calif. Dr. Wilkinson started out in medicine as a pediatric oncology nurse prior to medical school at UCSF and has been a pediatrician in South Orange County since 1992, currently practicing at Sea View Pediatrics.

Dr. Wilkinson’s philosophy of care: “I believe being a doctor for children is truly a family affair, requiring a joint effort between the doctor and parents to raise a healthy and happy child.”

University of California, San Francisco Medical School


Dr. Ann Wilkinson

How to Help Babies with Acid Reflux

Some baby spit-up is a fact of life for parents of infants, but a baby who spits up a lot or often may have reflux, a CHOC pediatrician says.

What is acid reflux in babies? Reflux is a condition wherein food comes back up into the esophagus from the stomach. This sometimes happens to babies because their gastrointestinal tract is immature and has not fully developed yet.

Mom holding her infant

Quick Tips to Soothe a Baby with Colic

Sometimes called the “witching hour,” late afternoon and early evening can be frustrating for parents and babies alike.

This part of the day is a common time for even the calmest of infants to suffer some fussiness, says Liz Drake, a CHOC clinical nurse specialist. In the video above,  find 5 quick tips to soothe a baby with colic.

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