What Is Infant Colic And How To Relieve It

October 11, 2023

Infant colic can be a distressing condition for both babies and parents alike. It is characterized by excessive, uncontrollable crying in a healthy baby without any apparent reason. But fret not, as there are several methods and remedies that can help provide relief for your little one. In this article, we will explore the causes of infant colic and share some practical tips and strategies to help soothe your baby and ease their discomfort. So, if you’re a parent seeking answers and solutions for this challenging issue, you’ve come to the right place.

What is Infant Colic?

Infant colic is a common condition characterized by periods of excessive crying and irritability in otherwise healthy babies. It is often defined as crying for more than three hours a day, at least three days a week, for three weeks or longer. While the exact cause of colic is unknown, it is believed to be related to various factors, including gastrointestinal issues, immature digestive systems, food allergies or sensitivities, excessive gas, hormonal factors, and even the mother’s diet.

Causes of Infant Colic

Gastrointestinal Issues

Gastrointestinal issues, such as acid reflux or an intolerance to certain foods, can contribute to the development of colic. Babies with colic may experience discomfort and pain in their stomachs, leading to excessive crying.

Immature Digestive System

Babies are born with immature digestive systems that are still developing and adjusting to the outside world. This immaturity can lead to difficulties in digesting food properly, which may trigger colic episodes.

Food Allergies or Sensitivities

Some babies may have allergies or sensitivities to certain foods, such as cow’s milk protein or soy protein, which can cause colic symptoms. If you suspect your baby has a food allergy or sensitivity, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and guidance.

Excessive Gas

Excessive gas can be another contributing factor to infant colic. Babies often swallow air while feeding or crying, leading to discomfort and excessive crying episodes. Finding effective burping techniques can help reduce colic symptoms related to gas.

Hormonal Factors

Hormonal factors, such as imbalances or fluctuations in the baby’s hormone levels, may also play a role in causing colic. These hormonal changes can affect the baby’s mood and overall well-being, leading to increased crying and irritability.

Mother’s Diet

In some cases, the mother’s diet may contribute to infant colic. Certain foods or substances, such as caffeine or dairy products, can pass through breast milk and affect the baby’s digestive system. Adjusting the mother’s diet or eliminating potential trigger foods may help alleviate colic symptoms.

Symptoms of Infant Colic

Excessive Crying

One of the main symptoms of infant colic is excessive crying that often seems inconsolable. The crying episodes can last for hours and may occur at the same time each day, typically in the late afternoon or evening.

Crying Patterns

Colicky babies often have distinct crying patterns. They may cry intensely, with a high-pitched or shrill cry, and appear to be in distress. The crying may start suddenly and escalate rapidly, making it difficult for parents to soothe their babies.

Physical Symptoms

Apart from crying, babies with colic may exhibit physical symptoms such as clenched fists, flushed face, and tensed muscles. They may also arch their back or pull their knees up to their chest, indicating discomfort or pain.

Sleep Problems

Colic can disrupt a baby’s sleep patterns, making it challenging for them to settle or stay asleep. Babies with colic may have difficulty falling asleep, wake frequently during the night, or have shorter sleep durations overall.

Diagnosing Infant Colic

Ruling Out Other Medical Conditions

To diagnose infant colic, healthcare professionals start by ruling out other potential medical conditions that may be causing the excessive crying. This may involve conducting various tests or examinations to ensure there are no underlying health issues.

The Rule of Three

The “rule of three” is often used as a guideline to diagnose infant colic. If a baby cries for more than three hours a day, at least three days a week, and for a period of three weeks or longer, it is likely considered colic.

Medical History and Physical Examination

A thorough medical history and physical examination of the baby are crucial in diagnosing colic. Healthcare professionals will ask about the baby’s symptoms, feeding patterns, and any other relevant information to determine if colic is the most probable cause.

Crying Diary

Parents may be asked to keep a crying diary, documenting the baby’s crying episodes, patterns, and any other associated factors. This can provide healthcare professionals with valuable insights and help in the diagnosis and management of colic.

Tips for Relieving Infant Colic

Comforting Techniques

Using comforting techniques can help soothe a colicky baby. Gentle rocking, swaying, or carrying the baby in a calm environment can provide a sense of security and help alleviate colic symptoms.

Feeding Strategies

If your baby is bottle-fed, trying different nipple sizes or types may help reduce air ingestion and discomfort from feeding. If you are breastfeeding, adjusting your position or seeking guidance from a lactation consultant can aid in improving the feeding experience for both you and your baby.

Burping Techniques

Effective burping techniques can help relieve colic symptoms related to excessive gas. Gently patting or rubbing your baby’s back, or holding them upright and supporting their chin while they burp, can help release trapped gas.


Babywearing, using a sling or carrier, can provide a close and comforting environment for the baby. The gentle swaying motion and close proximity to the caregiver can help soothe colic symptoms and promote a sense of security.


Swaddling, when done correctly, can help calm a colicky baby. Wrapping your baby snugly in a thin, breathable blanket can simulate the feeling of being in the womb, providing comfort and reducing excessive crying.

White Noise

White noise, such as the sound of a fan or a soft lullaby, can have a calming effect on a colicky baby. Playing white noise in the background during sleep or fussy periods can help soothe them and mask other environmental noises.

Gentle Movement

Gentle movement, such as taking the baby for a walk in a stroller or rocking them in a baby swing, can help distract from colic symptoms and provide a soothing effect. The rhythmic motion can be comforting and help the baby relax.

Tummy Time

Tummy time is essential for a baby’s development, but it can also have a positive impact on colic symptoms. Placing your baby on their tummy for short periods throughout the day can help alleviate gas and relieve discomfort.

Medications and Remedies

Simethicone Drops

Simethicone drops are an over-the-counter medication often used to relieve gas in infants. They work by breaking up gas bubbles in the digestive system, helping to reduce colic symptoms related to excessive gas.


Probiotics are live bacteria that can promote a healthy gut environment. Some studies suggest that probiotics may help alleviate colic symptoms by improving digestion and reducing gas.

Herbal Remedies

Herbal remedies, such as chamomile or fennel, have been used for centuries to soothe digestive discomfort. However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before using any herbal remedies to ensure their suitability for your baby.

Prescription Medications

In severe cases of colic, healthcare professionals may prescribe medications to manage symptoms. These prescription medications are typically used as a last resort when other methods have been ineffective in providing relief.

Alternative Therapies

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care for colicky babies involves gentle adjustments to the spine and other parts of the body. Proponents of chiropractic care believe that it can help improve colic symptoms by addressing any misalignments or imbalances in the baby’s musculoskeletal system.


Acupuncture is an ancient practice that uses thin needles inserted into specific points on the body to promote balance and wellness. Some parents have reported positive effects on their colicky babies after acupuncture sessions, but further research is needed to establish its effectiveness.


Massage can help relax a colicky baby and relieve built-up tension in their muscles. Gently massaging the baby’s abdomen in a clockwise motion with warm oil can aid in digestion and reduce discomfort.

Baby Yoga

Baby yoga involves gentle movements and stretches designed specifically for babies. Certain yoga poses and exercises can help alleviate colic symptoms by promoting relaxation and easing digestive discomfort.


Aromatherapy involves the use of scents, typically essential oils, to promote relaxation and well-being. Some essential oils, such as lavender or chamomile, can be used in a diffuser or diluted in carrier oils for massage to help calm a colicky baby.

Parental Self-care

Maintaining a Support Network

Parenting a colicky baby can be challenging, so it’s essential to maintain a support network. Reach out to family, friends, or other parents who have experienced colic. They can provide emotional support, advice, and reassurance during difficult times.

Seeking Help

Don’t hesitate to seek help when needed. Whether it’s reaching out to a healthcare professional, talking to a therapist, or joining a support group, seeking assistance can provide valuable guidance and alleviate any feelings of isolation or overwhelm.

Taking Breaks

Caring for a colicky baby can be physically and emotionally exhausting. It’s important to prioritize self-care and take breaks when needed. Ask a trusted family member or friend to watch the baby for a short time, allowing you to rest and recharge.

Stress Management Techniques

Implementing stress management techniques can help parents cope with the challenges of having a colicky baby. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, or engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation can help reduce stress levels and promote overall well-being.

When to Seek Medical Help

Persistent Fever

If your baby has a persistent fever, it may be a sign of an underlying infection or illness. Contact your healthcare professional if your baby’s temperature exceeds the recommended range.

Changes in Crying Pattern

If your baby’s crying pattern suddenly changes, becomes more intense or prolonged, or if they display any concerning symptoms, it is essential to seek medical help. These changes may indicate a different medical condition that requires evaluation and appropriate treatment.

Weight Loss or Poor Weight Gain

Colic should not interfere with a baby’s growth and weight gain. If you notice a significant decrease in your baby’s weight or poor weight gain, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying issues.

Excessive Vomiting or Diarrhea

Although spit-up is common in babies, excessive vomiting or diarrhea can be a cause for concern. If your baby is consistently vomiting forcefully or experiencing frequent watery stools, it’s crucial to seek medical attention to ensure proper hydration and rule out any gastrointestinal problems.

Importance of Patience and Support

Understanding Colic Is Temporary

It’s important to remember that colic is a temporary condition. As challenging as it may be, remind yourself that it will eventually pass. Each day brings you closer to your baby outgrowing colic and achieving a more settled and content state.

Seeking Support from Others

Don’t hesitate to reach out to others for support. Share your feelings, experiences, and concerns with loved ones or support groups. Talking to someone who understands what you are going through can provide a sense of relief and comfort.

Reaching Out to Professionals

If you find yourself struggling to cope with your baby’s colic, reaching out to professionals can provide expert guidance and support. Pediatricians, lactation consultants, therapists, and other healthcare professionals can offer valuable advice and help develop coping strategies to navigate through this challenging period.

In conclusion, infant colic can be a challenging experience for both babies and parents. Understanding the causes and symptoms of colic, as well as implementing effective soothing strategies, can provide relief and support during this transient phase. Remember, you are not alone, and seeking help and support is essential for your own well-being and the well-being of your baby. With patience, understanding, and proper care, you can navigate through this challenging period and provide the comfort and support your baby needs.

Sandra McNeil, PhD.
Sandra McNeil, PhD.

Sandra has over 13 years of experience as a child psychologist, both as a practitioner and researcher. She has a Bachelor's in child psychology from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and then she did her master's in Psychology in Education (focused on Children & Families) at Columbia University, NY. She has been writing for health and child-related publications for over 5 years now.

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