Definition of colic

Infantile colic is not a disease, but a group of symptoms that occurs in healthy babies aged 2 weeks to 3 months. For a baby to be called colicky, she must be gaining weight well and be otherwise healthy.


  • The baby appears to be very agitated and in pain
  • The baby may cry for extended periods (1-3 hours)
  • Crying occurs especially in the late afternoon and/or early evening
  • Pains can be intermittent, building up and persisting for 1-2 minutes, then fading until the next spasm
  • During these spells, the baby canít be comforted (or only for a short time before crying resumes).
  • Pain cry is sudden and shrill, sometimes with pauses where the baby seems to stop breathing.
  • The baby pulls her legs up to her tummy, arches her back, and splays her hands and feet.


  • Colic affects 20-30% of babies
  • 1st month: colicky spells can occur any time, day or night.
  • 2nd month: 80% of babies start crying between 5pm and 8pm, and stop crying by midnight.
  • Crying peaks at 6 weeks of age or 46 weeks after conception
  • 50% of babies improve dramatically at 2 months of age
  • 30% of babies improve at 3 months of age
  • 10% of babies improve at 4 months of age

There seems to be no link between excessive crying and the following factors:

  • Babyís gender
  • Motherís age
  • Type of birth
  • Babyís place in the family
  • Whether baby is breast- or formula-fed
  • Causes of colic / inconsolable crying

It seems likely that colic is caused by a combination of factors and not just one. Here is a short summary of factors which can contribute to inconsolable crying:

Babies often gulp in air along with their milk feed, causing discomfort.

Gas and cramps
Digestive processes produce gases in the intestine, which can cause a painful, bloated tummy.

Rare in breastfed babies, but often troubles formula-fed babies.

Certain breastfeeding practices
These include stretching too long between feeds, feeding for too short a time per breast (too much foremilk), baby is sensitive to motherís diet.

Intestinal bacteria
A recent study found that low levels of friendly bacteria in the intestine can cause colic, and that supplementing these can ease colic.

Formula-fed babies
Some babies become colicky if they are sensitive to formula.

A small percentage of babies suffer from true reflux. This needs to be treated by your doctor.

Systemic thrush
Candida infection in the intestine can also cause colicky behaviour. Supplementing friendly bacteria may help.

Over-tiredness and over-stimulation can cause babies to cry for extended periods. Especially common in the late afternoon and early evening.

The Ďfourth trimesterí
Some experts say that human babies are all born 3 months too early due to evolutionary changes. Keeping the baby in a womb-like environment day and night helps to reduce colic significantly.

Stressful pregnancy
Uncontrollable events, financial and/or work worries, troubled relationships and death in the family can contribute to crying in the newborn.

Stressful birth
When the mother feels that the birth process was out of her own control and she had very little say about how things happened, babies cry more.

Premature birth
Premature babies are more likely to cry if the mother had pre-enclampsia, high blood pressure, induced labour and/or if the baby had breathing problems.

Mumís emotions
Feeling out of control, under pressure and isolated can cause an increase in crying, setting of a vicious cycle.

Dadís emotions
If dad puts a lot of pressure on mum to stop the babyís crying, babies respond by crying even more!

Babyís emotions
Babies cry to communicate their feelings, not to manipulate their parents. Colicky babies should not be left to cry alone (unless the mother feels that she may harm the baby).

Parenting practices in colic-free cultures and Western culture
Babies in more natural cultures donít suffer from colic Ė this may be due to factors such as strong maternal support and co-mothering, frequent feeding, keeping babies against the motherís body day and night and emphasis on accepting babiesí needs.

In Western culture mothers often have little support and experience and the pace of life is hectic. Babies are expected to feed on schedule and be by themselves for extended periods during the day and night.

For the best tips on soothing your colicky or crying baby, please read Coping with Crying (available from

Article compiled by Erica Neser, author of Coping with Crying and Sleep Guide for Babies and Toddlers (Protea Books, 2006).

IMPORTANT: Take your baby to the doctor for a thorough check-up before assuming she has colic.

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