What Causes Colic

Don’t worry – even though it may seem like your baby is attempting to set a new record for crying, it could just be baby colic. Think of it in “threes:” your baby might have colic if he or she is otherwise healthy but cries inconsolably around the same time of day for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, for more than three weeks … no matter what you do!

Colic affects around 25% of babies in their first year, and symptoms can appear within their first two to four weeks. The good news? It usually gets better by the time your baby is three to four months old, although it can last longer. How do you know if it’s colic? Check with your pediatrician to rule out any other possibilities and to have colic clinically diagnosed.

The exact cause is unknown, but there are many theories that experts have presented over time. Every baby is different, but the combination of several factors are more likely to result in colic discomfort:



(Gastroesophageal Reflux)

Think of heartburn, and you’ll have an idea of the feeling G.E.R. gives an infant. It’s caused when irritating stomach acids back up into the esophagus. Babies who have G.E.R. often scream as though in pain, go through bursts of waking at night, seem to be in the most pain after eating, draw their legs up to the chest and arch their back, have frequent, unexplained colds, wheezing and chest infections and don’t like to be on their back.


Sensitivities to Certain Foods

(Transient Lactase Deficiency/Lactose Intolerance)

What a breastfeeding mother eats can have a direct effect on her baby, so what makes mom gassy can make baby gassy, too. Food culprits can be dairy products, certain vegetables, caffeinated foods and drinks, wheat, spicy foods and corn.


Immature Nervous System

(Also known as the “fourth trimester” theory)

As adults, it’s hard to imagine that at one point, our gastrointestinal systems were brand new! Newborns’ digestive muscles haven’t developed enough by the time they’re born to move food efficiently through their digestive tracts, and they don’t have the probiotics that eventually develop to help with digestion. As they get older, their systems mature, which might explain why most babies outgrow colic after a few months.


Bacterial Imbalance in the Gut

Babies’ guts are completely pure when they are born and it takes months for them to develop the good bacteria that balance out bad bacteria and help the digestive system. Until the beneficial bacteria (probiotics) appear, some babies may experience digestive discomfort.



If mom drinks cow’s milk, it’s transferred to baby through her breast milk, and sometimes, babies have a temporary lack of lactase enzyme. That means they can’t easily digest the lactose sugar in milk – breast milk or cow’s milk. That undigested sugar will create lactic acid and gas, making baby very uncomfortable until he or she is able to produce more lactase enzyme, which is usually at around four months of age.


Treatment Options

Colic can and will improve on its own, even though that knowledge may not be so reassuring when you’re in the midst of trying to comfort and calm your baby! Feeling angry, frustrated, guilty or as though you’re doing something wrong is very common, but there are some things you can do in terms of colic remedies. Try each suggestion one at a time at first to see what works for you, and eventually, you may find that a combination is the most effective.

  1. Change formulas: many experts believe that colic is related to your baby’s digestion, so switching to a hypoallergenic formula may help.
  2. Try a different feeding technique: if baby normally nurses on both breasts, switch to a longer feeding on one breast, since research has shown that this can cut colic in half. Or, try more frequent but smaller feedings. Sucking is a soothing activity for many babies, so a pacifier may help calm him or her down, even if you’re breastfeeding.
  3. Motion: gentle motion may help, so rocking your baby in your arms, in an infant swing, or laying him or her on your knees and swaying your knees slowly can have a positive effect. Taking your baby for a walk or a drive, or using a vibrating infant seat or crib may also be effective.
  4. Swaddling: babies are comforted by being held closely, so try swaddling him or her in a lightweight blanket or just simply cuddling.
  5. Create a soothing noise: some babies are comforted by steady background noise like a fan, a white noise maker or a CD with ocean or waterfall sounds. Humming, quietly making a “shhh” sound or singing a lullaby may also help. Even if your baby doesn’t totally stop crying, this may keep you both calm and pass the time.
  6. Gentle massage or heat: giving your baby a warm bath and/or softly massaging your baby around the tummy area may relieve some of his or her discomfort.
  7. Change your diet: if mom is breastfeeding, eliminating certain foods such as dairy products, citrus fruits, spicy foods, and caffeinated drinks may make a difference in baby. If you’re bottle feeding, switch to a different bottle or nipple type.
  8. Herbal remedy: many parents have had success with natural remedies using ginger, fennel and chamomile. Try using organic gripe water, like Wellements Baby Gripe Water to soothe your baby’s tummy, or other natural or organic baby products.
  9. Probiotics: some research indicates that probiotics for infants might reduce crying time, but be sure to check with your pediatrician before starting any medication.

Coping: What About Your Sanity?

Just remember – taking care of a baby who has colic is exhausting and stressful, even for the most experienced and patient parents. Going through a few months with a crying baby can take an emotional toll on you, so make sure you take some time for yourself, too.

  1. Take a break: ask your spouse, a friend or a babysitter to take over for a little while – even 10 minutes can help you feel refreshed. Take a deep breath and regroup.
  2. Talk to someone: experiencing a wide range of feelings and emotions is completely normal. Don’t be afraid to talk to your partner, friends, your doctor or other parents who have been through this and can offer support.
  3. Stay positive: colic is not a result of bad parenting and you are not to blame! Even though this can be a very tough time, it’s temporary and won’t last forever.
  4. Take care of yourself: making healthy choices in all areas of your life will help. Eating healthy, whole foods, avoiding sugar and alcohol, making time for exercise and stretching, or taking a walk will help you stay energized. Finally, do your best to sleep when your baby sleeps.


Disclaimer: The information provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical care for the prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of your child’s condition. Please consult your child’s doctor before trying any medication or following any treatment plan stated on this site.