Colic : Symptoms, Causes and Treatment (Baby & Adult)

Although babies communicate through crying, there are some kind of cries that just do not stop regardless of all the comfort the baby is given. The term used to describe inconsolable babies is colic and it is a common condition. 

When babies are about 2 to 3 weeks old they can develop crying spells either for no apparent reason or by some explainable parental practices.

This article gives a short background on what colic is, characteristics, risk factors and many tips to adopt in order to treat and soothe colicky babies to give them a good health

What Is Colic?

Dr. Morris Wessel conducted a breakthrough study 40 years ago looking at children who were excessively fussy to see if there are underlying causes and treatment. He then just used the name colicky babies to describe the fussy babies not as a scientific term, and the name kind of stuck. 

It was Dr. Morris who referred to infantile colic as the “Rule of 3’s” because these colicky babies excessively cry; 

  • for more than 3 hours a day, 
  • for more than 3 days a week, 
  • for over 3 weeks

as such these rules are now known as Wessel Criteria and these are still used to diagnose infant with colic. (source)

Characteristics of babies with colic

There are quite a lot of characteristics setting colicky infant apart from other infants and it is important to name as many as possible. Moreover, babies may not have all of them at once. 

One important point to note is that having colic does not necessarily mean the bay is not healthy. However, when there are primary and underlying factors, it could be suggested that baby’s cry is a “cry for help”. This is true especially when the condition affect child growth in terms of failure to gain weight normally.  List of colic symptoms are; 

  • When they cry without any apparent reason. 
  • These crying usually start in the early evenings.
  • Inconsolable cries for; over 3 hours daily, for more than 3 days in over 3 weeks in succession.   
  • Present with swollen belly
  • They are flatulent and usually pull up their legs to their chest before passing gas. 
  • It is difficult to soothe and comfort them.

Causes of Infantile Colic

There are really no definite and documented causes of infantile colic scientifically researched and proven. However, rarely an inconsolable baby cries due to some primary conditions and until that is treated the baby will continue to the scream, be sleepless, and suffer with pain. 

A study conducted in Denmark showed that there is an association between infantile colic and low birth weight where low birth weight babies were twice as likely to have colic than babies born with normal weight. (Source)   

The list of things that could cause colic

  • Babies temperamental and sensitive. These babies are attention seekers.
  • Having the nervous system that is immature.
  • Babies that are abnormally sensitive to stimulation
  • Nursing mothers may eat food that disturbs their breast fed babies. 
  • Intolerances of bottle-fed babies to lactose, protein, etc. 
  • Overfeeding and feeding the babies too quick
  • Mothers who smoked during pregnancy are two times more likely to have colicky babies than babies born of mothers who do not smoke.   
  • Swallowing too much air while crying leading to intestinal gas. 
  • Poor and inappropriate practice after feeds like no burping them and positioning the babies badly.
  • A low birth weight baby
  • Hunger
  • Acid reflux

Moreover, one of the most common and underlying conditions causing infantile colic is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). 

What is GERD 

The irritation of the food pipe lining caused by the stomach acid or bile disturbing the digestive system. This happens when the acid in the stomach flows back into the esophagus which is the tube connecting the mouth and the stomach. 

Signs and symptoms of GERD

It is important to know which signs to look for in order to get help for the baby early enough. Babies with GERD will have the contents in the little tummies backed up into the esophagus leading to these signs and symptoms; 

  • Vomiting
  • Problems breathing
  • Cannot and will not gain weight
  • Immature digestive system  
  • spitting up after feeding which is accompanied by forceful regurgitation through the nose. 
  • Bouts of abdominal pain, day and night that is inconsolable. 
  • Night waking due to painful episodes.
  • Legs and knees draw up to the chest followed by fussiness. 
  • Bending or twisting as if in pain
  • When carried upright the fussiness get diminished. 
  • Colds, wheezing, and chest infections that are frequent and cannot be explained. 
  • Stopping to breath episodes. 

Treatment, and Time 

Babies with GERD will need to get medications to help reduce acid reflux. Medications available are by prescription ONLY e.g. Zantac and Tagamet (cimetidine). These meds are administered in an infant-strength liquid form.

Babies can also benefit from Reglan medication which is designed to improve intestinal motility (metoclopramide). These meds are particularly good for babies vomiting blood, asthmatic or pneumonia, or for babies who are not gaining weight. 

Moreover, parents could feed their babies small frequent meals to avoid pain and discomfort. Also mothers could prop their babies for 30 minutes after feeding and while sleeping.  

Wearing the baby in a sling will sure decease baby crying which in turn reduce acid reflux because babes reflux more while crying. Furthermore, studies reveal that children that are breast-fed are less likely to have GERD which means breast feeding has many benefits and protective effects. 

Diagnosis and Treatment 

Providentially, babies outgrow GERD as they grow older like between 6 and 12 months.  Mothers who notice the signs and symptoms on their little babies should consult with their doctor. 

To test for GERD the doctor will measure the amount of regurgitated stomach acid into the baby’s esophagus for 12 to 24 hours. This is done by placing a string-like tube on the esophagus. 

Since babies already have some level of acid reflux, it is important for the doctors to be able to identify the normal reflux to the abnormal one to avoid misdiagnosing the baby. 

These are NOT signs of Colic?

Not all crying babies have colic and mothers need to look out and be educated on signs and symptoms that do not indicate infantile colic

Colic does not include:

  • High- temperature, flu-like symptoms.
  • bloody stools or mucus in the stool
  • projectile spit up
  • lack of appetite
  • babies with pale skin

And as such, if babies have any of these symptoms, parent are advised to consult with the doctor immediately as these could a sign of life-threatening conditions or disease that need immediate treatment. 

The risk factors of Colic?

Being a baby is a risk enough, this condition can get breastfed or bottle-fed babies, boys and girls alike. However, portions on baby feeds can be a predisposing factor, i.e. over and underfeeding. Babies who eat too fast tend to swallow too much air thus causing gas in their digestive system. 

Some children may be allergic to some ingredient in their formula milk or breastmilk, that could also lead to infantile colic. Consequently, stressful and noisy environment induces restlessness to babies thus causing infantile colic. 

More importantly, babies need to eat breast milk for at least 6 months exclusively and only if there are conditions beyond a mother’s control, bottle milk can be made an option. 

Thus, weaning (introducing solid foods) them too early can increase the risk of infantile colic particularly if the solids are introduced before the baby turn 4 months. 

Does Colic Ever Stop?

At about age 3 or 4 months’ colic can stop, or go away on its own. But in rare cases, the condition can stretch for more than 6 months. As such, any baby who cries for longer hours post 6 months, that could be an indicator that there are more underlying problems that need medical attention.

Treatment of Infantile Colic

Colic is a normal condition experienced by most children. There are several modifications that can be done to soothe and even prevent colic. Some studies suggest the use of massage, sucrose solution, herbal tea and hydrolyzed formula. (source)

These are believed to have soothing are effect and are thus good for colic treatment. In the study, children who were given a combination of massage, sucrose solution, herbal tea and hydrolyzed formula were found to cry less. Other useful tips to adopt include; 

10 Tips to Soothe Infantile Colic

1 – Swaddling the baby

Swaddling a crying and irritable baby is very comforting and has a way of making the baby feel safe. The proper way to swaddle is the kind where the baby can’t wriggle her arms and legs freely. Colic babies need to be placed on their back. 

2 – Shift Positions

The baby need to be held face down rather than facing up to avoid cradling the baby. The parents’ hand must be placed under the belly caring to put the baby’s head is on the mother’s forearm. This is effective as it creates pressure on the tummy and thus relieve uncomfortable gas

3 – Turn On White Noise

Because there was a lot of whooshing and background noise in the womb, babies are soothed by sounds that mimic the womb noise. Created sound must be kept constant and a low-level sound. 

How to recreate comfortable womb;

  • Turning the fan on, 
  • the bassinet must be put near the dishwasher, 
  • running the vacuum cleaner, 
  • the shower must be turned on, 
  • or tuning a radio to static. 

4 – Pacify them 

The instincts for sucking are quiet high in infancy stage, so giving them a pacifier will sure soothe their colic. 

5 – Shh!

The shh! sound made loudly enough for the baby to hear it over their own racket is soothing. 

6 – Take a Ride

Getting in motion can potentially send them to dreamland! There just so many options to choose from;

  • Put him in a swing. 
  • rocking chair to cradle them. 
  • a vibrating infant seat. 
  • Riding on your car as well.

7 – Baby Massage

Contact through skin-to-skin has the power to soothe a colicky baby because babies love human’s touch. Studies have shown that babies who are massaged more often cry less and also sleep better. (source)


  • Baby must be undressed
  • Stroke the baby’s legs, arms, back, chest, and face firmly and slowly. 
  • Some doctors can also show parent how to use baby oils to massage and rub them. 
  • Rubbing tummies in a clockwise motion to relieve bloating and flatulent/ or gas.  
  • Bicycling their little legs was also found to relive gassy babies. 

 8 – Wear Your Baby

Putting a baby with colic in a sling or carrier is very calming for the baby as the baby is able to snuggle closed and be lulled to sleep by the mother’s movements. Most cultures encourage mothers to carry their infants on slings and carriers for hours on a daily basis and the results are always great! 

The use of slings assists mothers to carry on with house chores while taking care of their infants with ease. As a precautionary measure, cooking and use of hot beverages is prohibited while the bay is on the swaddle for the safety of both the baby and the mother. 

9 – Give Her a Burp

Infantile colic is accompanied by crying a lot, and as such babies tend to swallow to much air leading to bloating.  Gentle thumps on the baby’s back enables burping and thus releasing air. Putting the baby’s head over your shoulders does the trick! Other techniques;

  • Let the baby onto your lap with their face looking down.
  • Let the baby sit up straight using one of your arms to support their chest and neck. 

10 – Take a Breather

Restless and irritated babies have a way of weighing their parents down. It is therefore important for parents to get help, so they can take a breather and keep frustrations at minimum. The parents’ peace of mind is vital in helping infantile colic soothe. That’s why getting a support system is necessary. 

When to consult with the Doctor

For a baby that cannot stop crying regardless of all the consoling tactics, parent could consider going to their doctor for professional assistance. 


Colic is one of the most common conditions in babies. Parents with colicky babies will need moral support from family and friend so parents could also rest, and recharge to be able to effectively care for their fussy babies.

Nursing Mothers must eat the right diet as their diet is passed on to their infants through breast milk. Also, it is important to adopt healthier habits and avoid those that increase the risk of colic like, smoking, anorexia, etc. Prevention is better than cure!!!

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