All about colic

What are some of the symptoms of colic? Is there any way to avoid going through this with our new baby?


Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Colic is inconsolable crying in otherwise healthy babies, which begins in the first month of life and generally goes away by the third month. The crying generally begins in the evening and may last through much of the night. It is quite distressing for everyone involved: the baby who has it, the parents who try to soothe it, and the physician who tries to treat it.


Essentially there are three schools of thought concerning colic.

  1. One school feels that the cause is unknown, but might be related to the baby's immature nervous system that can't handle the normal stimuli of everyday life. Therefore, when the baby begins to cry and you pick him up, he can't handle the holding and your voice well, so he cries. What this implies is that there is nothing you can do to prevent it since you have to wait for the baby's nervous system to mature. It also implies there is not much you can do about it except let him cry and try to minimize the outside stimulation he experiences.
  2. The second school of thought is one that feels abdominal pain is the cause. This is based on the observation that some babies tend to draw up their legs or pass gas when they cry. Adherents to this belief treat colic with simethicone (trade name Mylicon) and a change in formula for bottle fed infants or a mother's diet change for breastfed infants.
  3. The third school of thought is one that characterizes the child's crying as her way of communicating. When she begins to cry, she is trying to tell you she is in need of something. When that need is not met, she becomes inconsolable which hampers the ability to meet that need , and the whole thing becomes a vicious cycle.

My Opinion: I'm a fan of the third option for a number of reasons.

  1. There have been no studies that support the immature nervous system option. In addition, there have been no studies supporting the contention that allowing a colicky infant to cry decreases the amount of crying.
  2. Simethicone does not effectively treat colic. It simply does not work.
  3. If there is a relationship between colic and milk allergy, it only involves a small number of babies.
  4. Finally, studies show that by intensively looking for the unsatisfied need in colicky babies, most babies will have a reduction in crying.

Treatment Strategies

So, how do you implement this in your colicky infant?

  1. Try to never let your baby cry.
  2. In attempting to discover why your infant is crying, consider these possibilities:
    • The baby is hungry and wants to be fed
    • The baby wants to suck, although he is not hungry
    • The baby wants to be held
    • The baby is bored and wants stimulation
    • The baby is tired and wants to sleep
  3. If the crying continues for more than five minutes with one response, then try another.
  4. Decide on your own in what order to explore the above possibilities
  5. Don't be concerned about overfeeding your baby. This will not happen.
  6. Don't be concerned about spoiling your baby. This will not happen.

Next, you will need a health care provider that tends to like this approach. This will allow for ongoing feedback and suggestions. Along with the suggestions above, you will need to keep a diary outlining the infant's behavior. Classify her behavior (see the following categories) and record how long she spent in each state, as well as your response to each crying episode:

  • Sleeping alone
  • Sleeping in the arms of an adult
  • Awake, alone, and happy
  • Awake, alone, and crying
  • Awake, held, and crying

This journal will allow you and your doctor to more easily analyze what works and what doesn't.

I hope this helps.

Like This? Read These!
- Breastfeeding Support Message Board
- Colic Message Board

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