The causes of colic are not fully understood. There are several theories about why colic may or may not occur, including:
- Temperament and adjusting to the world. Newborns are trying to adjust to the world they are living in, and not all babies have the same temperament. Some adjust to lights, loud noises and all the other stimulation around them with no trouble, while others are not able to adapt as easily. Just like adults, some babies are easy-going and some are impatient. Crying may be one way for a baby to vent feelings as he or she is getting adjusted to the world.
- An inability to self-soothe. Some babies seem overly sensitive to stimulation and are unable to calm themselves. As a baby matures, he or she is better able to regulate his or her immature nervous system. As this happens, colic disappears.
- Oversensitivity to gas. While some people think that gas may be to blame for colic, there is little evidence to support this. In fact, treating gas has no effect on colic in babies. Doctors do not think that babies with colic produce more gas than others. If a baby with colic seems to pass more gas than other babies do, it is probably due to swallowing more air while crying for prolonged periods.
- Milk allergy. Milk allergies may cause abdominal pain, but will usually also cause diarrhea. A baby who can’t tolerate cow’s milk and responds to a change in formula may have a milk allergy. However, there is no evidence that changing to a non-milk formula has any effect on colic.
A child who is otherwise well who cries or is fussy several hours a day, especially from 6 p.m. to midnight with no apparent reason, may have colic. Also, babies with colic may burp frequently or pass a significant amount of gas, but this is thought to be due to swallowing air while crying, and is not a cause of colic. The face may be flushed. The abdomen may be tense with legs drawn toward it. The hands may be clenched.
The symptoms of colic may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child’s doctor for a diagnosis.
Colic may become a concern due to the following reasons:
- Frustrating and stressful to parents
- Parents and infant lose sleep
- Infant may be overfed in an attempt to stop the crying.
Babies with colic usually grow and gain weight appropriately, despite being fussy, irritable, gassy or losing sleep.
In order to diagnose colic, your child’s doctor will examine your baby and obtain a medical history. Questions might be asked about how long and how often your child cries, if you have noticed anything that seems to trigger the crying and what comfort measures are effective, if any. Blood tests and X-rays or other imaging tests may be done to determine if there are other problems present.
Before assuming your child has colic, you should look for other signs of illness. These may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Not sucking or drinking a bottle well
- Drinking less milk than usual
- Becoming more irritable when held or touched
- Strange-sounding cry
- Change in breathing rate or effort
- Being more sleepy or sluggish than usual.
Call your child’s doctor if you note any of these symptoms or if your baby is crying excessively. The doctor will examine your child to make sure other problems are not present that might be causing colic-like symptoms.
The symptoms of colic usually resolve by the time a baby is about four months of age but may last until the age of six months. Consult your child’s doctor for more information.