Zealous Baby Care

Practical (and judgment-free) advice on caring for your newborn from the baby pros

Is My Baby Cranky or Colicky?

As a new parent, you are already exhausted trying to figure out sleep and feeding schedules, but add to that a perpetually cranky baby? In the back of your mind, you may have the word “colic” floating around, but do you know what is actually happening or how to deal?

What Is Colic?

Colic is a bit of a mystery. The term applies to any healthy, well-fed infant who cries more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week, for more than 3 weeks. Here’s what we know about it:

  • Colic is likely to start around age 2 weeks if your infant is full-term (or later if premature).
  • It almost always goes away on its own by 3 or 4 months.
  • Your baby’s sex and birth order, and whether you breast- or bottle-feed, don’t affect it.
  • Kids who had colic as babies are no different from those who didn’t.

Signs of Colic

  • Clenching fists
  • Bending arms and legs toward the belly
  • Bloated tummy
  • Red, flushed face when crying
  • Passing gas while crying (often because of swallowed air)
  • Tightening of stomach muscles


What Causes Colic?

Colic’s exact cause is unknown, and that’s why there’s not a clear way to help it. Some theories of what is behind it include:

  • A growing digestive system with muscles that often spasm
  • Gas
  • Hormones that cause stomach pain or a fussy mood
  • Oversensitivity or overstimulation by light, noise, etc.
  • A moody baby
  • A still-developing nervous system


How to Treat Colic

Based on your baby’s needs for colic, your doctor can help. You’ll likely have to try one thing at a time to see if it calms him or her. If it doesn’t in a few days, move on to something else.

You may find one you think works. Know that colic can get better on its own and you may just have to wait for the fussiness to improve on its own at 4 months or so.

Beware of “cures” that claim to work for all babies as there is no such thing. Here are some things to try:

Feeding Tips

Is it the breastmilk or formula? Some parents worry that what they feed their baby or what they eat if they are breastfeeding can upset him. Generally, it’s not a cause of colic, but it can cause irritation. If you think it might be the cause of your baby’s crying, talk to his or her pediatrician.

Help him swallow less air. Try a special bottle designed to reduce gas or a nipple with a smaller hole. Sit the baby up while they eat so they swallow less air. Remember to burp him or her during and after feedings.

Soothe Your Baby with Sound and Motion

Walk or rock. Motion helps calm babies. Walk around with your baby in a baby carrier (the kind you wear over your chest). The combined warmth and rhythm may lull her to sleep.

Hold and rock him or put him in a swing or stroller. The gentle movement may stop his tears.

If all else fails, secure him in his car seat and go for a ride. Just make sure you’re not so tired it’s unsafe to drive.

Use sound to calm your baby. Many babies respond well to the gentle hum of a machine, such as a:

  • Clothes dryer (But don’t be tempted to put your baby on top of a dryer — not even in a carrier or car seat — because he could fall).
  • Fan
  • Vacuum
  • White-noise machine

You could also try classical music or a “heartbeat soundtrack” next to the crib.

Calm Your Baby’s Senses

Bright lights and sounds can overwhelm a colicky baby. Your baby may calm down if you:

  • Lay him on his back in a dark, quiet room.
  • Swaddle him snugly in a blanket.
  • Lay him across your lap and gently rub his back.
  • Try infant massage.
  • Put a warm water bottle on your baby’s belly.
  • Have him suck on a pacifier.
  • Soak him in a warm bath.


Remember, there are many things that can seem like colic but aren’t. If you’re concerned about your baby, your doctor can do a full exam to rule out a medical cause for why your baby cries and is fussy. She could be irritable because of:

  • An infection
  • Acid reflux or stomach problems
  • Pressure or inflammation of the brain and nervous system
  • Eye trouble, like a scratch or increased pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Injury to bones, muscles, or fingers


What to Do When Colic Is Stressing You Out

It’s a challenge when you have a baby with colic. Know that it’s normal and common to sometimes feel frustrated and overwhelmed. You are not a bad parent to feel that way, so don’t feel guilty. Everyone has these feelings sometimes.

If you’re at the end of the rope, remember it is okay to leave the baby in his crib or playpen for a short time while you leave the room to collect yourself.

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