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Causes of Colic in Infants

Updated on December 29, 2013
Causes of Colic in Infants
Causes of Colic in Infants | Source

I’ve been there. Uncontrollable crying, throwing arms and legs, a baby that squirms a lot and looks extremely uncomfortable, and nothing that you can do to make it better. It’s gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. You just know you did something wrong and you can’t figure out how to fix it. If you just knew your baby better, or could understand what he or she was trying to tell you.

You’ve tried everything. You shushed until your lips were numb, you’ve rocked and sung and bounced until your arms were shaking and your back was killing you, and you desperately wish you had the answer. The swing didn’t work, the vacuum cleaner didn’t work, a bath didn’t work, and not even food or a new diaper calmed him or her down. Could this be something more than just crying?

What is Colic?

Colic is essentially when a baby cries incessantly for no reason. Obviously babies cry for a variety of reasons. Some of these are hunger, tiredness, pain, a need to be close, and a need to be changed. However, when all of these needs have been met and yet your baby continues to cry, and this happens day in and day out, he or she probably has colic.

Typically only babies from birth through about three or four months of age have colic. If this is the case with your little one, know that it will eventually go away on its own. Colic is more detrimental to parents who feel guilty, helpless, or just want to console their babies, than it is to the babies themselves. There are no records of colic leaving any lasting damage to a child.

What Does Colic Look Like?

Doctors typically use something called “The Rule of Threes” to determine whether a baby is truly colicky. Let’s look at those five characteristics to get a better idea of what having a colicky baby really means.

  • Begins within the first three weeks of life
  • Lasts at least three hours a day
  • Occurs at least three days a week
  • Continues for at least three weeks
  • Seldom lasts longer than three months

“Colicky babies don't just fuss; they hurt. They shriek in agonizing discomfort. High-need babies respond to lots of holding and comforting, but almost nothing works for colic." (AskDrSears) There are a few things to take note of to determine if colic is what you are seeing. Colicky babies typically cry about the same time every day and apparently for no reason at all. The crying is usually so hard and lasts for so long that the baby’s face will turn red.

These babies are suffering from pain; typically stomach pain. You’ll likely see their little stomaches swell when they are crying and you’ll see them arch their backs and clench their fists. It’s likely just a gas or indigestion problem. You may see your baby stretch their legs (or pull them up to their chest), and pass gas during their crying spells. (MedicalNewsToday)

Unfortunately, colic frequently interrupts eating and sleeping patterns. These babies may have intense bouts of crying in the middle of meals and it may even wake them up. If you’ve ever had kidney stones, the feeling for your baby is likely very similar and very painful.

Causes of Colic in Infants
Causes of Colic in Infants | Source

How Do I Know if My Baby has Colic?

If you have to ask, then the answer is likely no. Colic is very distressing for both the parents and the baby. Colic literally means “pain in the colon.” So far there have been no specific cures or remedies for this condition.

You heard me right. Doctors simply don’t know what causes perfectly healthy babies to sudden cry like they’re on fire and keep on crying until you think there will never be an end. By crying, I don’t mean fussing and squirming, I mean all out, crying over-drive. If you’ve heard it before, you know what I mean.

Have you tried the solutions for Calming a Fussy Baby? He or she may simply have one of the five needs of babies that might make them cry and you haven’t tried everything yet. If you think you might have a colicky baby, check out some of the online support groups of moms with colicky babies. 90% of parents that visit one of those sites quickly realizes that they don’t, in fact, have a baby with colic.

Am I Doing Something to Cause it?

Nobody really knows the causes of colic, however there are many theories. One of those is that the baby’s digestion system isn’t fully developed and is sensitive. Some think that there may be something in the mother’s breast milk or in the baby formula that the baby is allergic to, or that is causing digestion problems. Lactose or milk allergies may produce the same effect as colic. You’ll also see a similar effect if you eat really spicy foods during breast feeding.

The likely cause is gas or indigestion, due to the lack of sufficient enzymes or digestive juices in a baby’s system, to adequately handle the proteins or other substances in the food you are feeding. Excessive crying causes babies to swallow air, which may contribute to gasiness, or a full belly after eating with or without effective burping, or the need to have a bowel movement can also add to an excess in gas in your little one’s belly.

Once again, nobody truly knows what causes colic and why some babies get it and some don’t. Colic is unbiased when it comes to the sex of the baby, when he or she was born in relation to pregnancy length, or even whether he or she is breast-fed or formula-fed. The only link researchers have to colic in infants is whether or not the mother smoked during pregnancy.

One way or another, the baby is in pain and upset. “These babies just can't handle any more sights, sounds, or sensations, and they cry to blow off steam.” (BabyCenter) The only suggestion I have is to avoid eating foods when breast-feeding that could cause additional gas in your baby. Some of these foods include anything with caffeine, spicy foods, orange juice, onions, cabbage, apples, plums, and beans.

What Can I Do to Stop it?

Seeing as how colic isn’t completely understood by health professionals, the only real suggestion is to follow the soothing techniques you’ve already learned in my article on Calming a Fussy Baby. Many of these include:

  • Swaddling Your Baby – Many babies feel comforted when wrapped or held tightly.
  • Loud Monotonous Sounds – Shushing, a vacuum cleaner, a hair dryer, the vent fan over the stove, and even singing can calm your little one by reminding him or her of being in your womb.
  • Monotonous Movements – Swinging, rocking, and bouncing are all close reminders of your womb.
  • Being Close – Carrying your little one in a wrap, a sling, or even a baby backpack will hold you baby tightly against your body allowing them to enjoy not only closeness but your body heat, your natural sounds, and your movements. Skin-on-skin is great for babies too!

Causes of Colic in Infants
Causes of Colic in Infants | Source

Before there’s even a need to soothe your little one, try some of these preventative measures to make sure there’s never a problem in the first place.

  • Try feeding your baby differently – Sitting up a little straighter can help, eating a little slower instead of gulping can help, and it may be the bottle or nipple causing the problems. Sucking in air during feeding is very common for babies. If you’re not using the right bottle for your little one, he or she may be drinking just as much air as formula.
  • Burping – If gas is the culprit, Burping Your Baby Successfully can help. There is more than one way to burp your little one. Maybe the way you are choosing isn’t right for the baby you’re caring for. Try a few different approaches and you might find a way that works best for both of you, and it can help with the gas a little.

  • Changing the food – It may just be that they are allergic or aren’t adequately digesting the food that they are eating. It may just need to be a little watered down, or you may just need to try and change it altogether. This also relates to breast-feeding moms and their diets. Try changing your diet to see if it makes a difference.
  • Massage or exercise – Giving your baby a warm bath, a full body massage, or a little bit of exercise could help the gas move along. Try the baby-bicycle, laying your baby on his back and pumping his legs like he’s riding a bike. He will do this naturally to get rid of gas, but you can help it along a little.
  • Talk to your doctor – Many pediatricians have suggestions for babies with indigestion, like herbal teas, gripe water, or anti-gas drops.

When it comes right down to it, colic is not your fault. There may be some easy fixes that will help to relieve the pain your baby is going through, but ultimately you did not do this to your little one. If for some reason you are concerned that you did, by like dropping her or giving her something you weren’t sure about, get to a doctor fast. But 20% of perfectly healthy babies across the United States regardless of birth weight, race, maturity at birth, or any other factor, get colic every year.

Make sure that you don’t take it personally, that you get help so you are not dealing with this alone, and do your very best to help, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s working. It is. Your baby knows you love him or her and you are doing your best. Keep paying attention and watching your baby closely, and one of these days, possibly with the help of your doctor, you’ll figure it out. In the end, if it really is colic, it will go away by itself after three or four months.

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    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 3 years ago from Prescott Valley

      Absolutely! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for the wonderful comment and the compliment!

    • profile image

      branded Mouse Mats 4 years ago

      What a good blog you have here. Please update it more often. This topics is my interest. Thank you.

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 4 years ago from Prescott Valley

      I'm glad you like it! Don't stop with this one. I've got tons more articles just like it you'll love. Keep reading! :)

    • ossmedia profile image

      Jason Roiz 4 years ago from Delhi

      Really its a great hub on colic in infants .

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 4 years ago from Prescott Valley

      That's really interesting. I would never have thought to consider a chiropractor for an infant. Nice information. Thank you!

    • DrPVSuglia profile image

      Dr. Patrick V. Suglia 4 years ago from Denver, PA

      Actually, most cases of colic I've ever seen resolved with just one visit to the chiropractor's office. I remember one such parent when I still lived in Minnesota who brought her three-month-old son to me who was on every medication under the sun for his colic. After somebody told her to take him to a chiropractor. So she came to me. One adjustment was all it took. I found that his C1 vertebra was misaligned causing pressure to be placed on his Vagus nerve. That one visit was all that was necessary for the colic to totally resolve.

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 4 years ago from Prescott Valley

      Wow. That's a lot of information. :) Thanks. I love hearing your thoughts, ideas, and appreciation. I really appreciate it.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 4 years ago from UK

      Well deserved HOTD on this informative and well written article. As you rightly point out infant colic is self remitting and goes away in 3-4 month.s. But these 3-4 months can be really stressful for parents who may worry there is something wrong with the child. Recent research has shown Reflux rarely causes pain and that there is no difference in occurrence breast or bottle fed babies. 95% of colicky babies have no underlying disease which is really reassuring once we get past the distress of handling crying baby ( I know, I've been there with my three!) I find a calm reassured parent who is able to soothe the child is a great relief. All too often people ( including soem doctors) want to change things- they change milks, try medication etc... this can cause more problems and disrupt the babies progress. Only time they need any treatment for reflux is if they are vomiting constantly and losing weight in which case they need A PAediatrician assessment. thankfully only 5% have any underlying problem like constipation or reflux. Supportive therapists and family Doctors can be a great help! thanks again for a good article.

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 4 years ago from Prescott Valley

      Me too! Thank you!

    • jseven profile image

      jseven 4 years ago from Michigan

      Helpful hub and thanks for all the info on colic. I had a couple colicky babies and it was heartbreaking to see them cry so hard. I think laying down eating would be difficult for digestion so I like the upright position tip. Also, certain formulas like soy are hard on the digestive system and I don't know why they even offer that to anyone as a food source. Hope this helps lots of stressed out parents.

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 4 years ago from Prescott Valley

      Thank you both so much! I'm curious why this Hub, out of all of my others, did so famously. :)

    • CarlySullens profile image

      CarlySullens 4 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      Congratulations on HOTD! This is a well written article on colic. I hope parents who are experiencing this can find this article and find comfort in the information you thoroughly outlined. Voted up and shared.

    • rose-the planner profile image

      rose-the planner 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

      Congratulations on HOTD, well deserved! This was a very insightful article on the causes of Colic in infants. I have known a few couples that have had to deal with this issue and it was very difficult. One couple found that the only thing that would pacify their baby was to take him for a drive, believe it or not, lol. I suppose the motion made the little guy feel better. Great article! Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 4 years ago from Prescott Valley

      Nice. I didn't know that either. Thanks!

    • Schatzie Speaks profile image

      Schatzie Speaks 4 years ago from US

      Also, if you have a really strong let-down the baby may not be able to handle the heavy flow of milk and gulp in a bunch of air and choke while feeding. Signs of this are clicking noises or choking/gulping sounds. Different positions where the baby's head is above the breast, the baby is nursing by your side as you lie down, or the baby is lying on top while feeding may be helpful in this case. But the dairy milk allergy or indigestion should definitely be emphasized, it's been a problem in at least one child for every parent I know! Cutting out milk (it takes up to 2 weeks to get out of your system entirely, so I've heard) has turned screaming infants into happy, smiley babies, and I have seen this first-hand.

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 4 years ago from Prescott Valley

      Thank you all for your supportive comments! I was wondering how to get a HOTD. I guess you just keep writing great articles and one day you will be rewarded! Thank you Dreamer Meg for your great addition. I didn't know that handy piece of information, but it definitely makes sense. :)

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 4 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      Nice hub on colic in infants and what to do to stop it. It was a good read. Congrats on your HOTD award.

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 4 years ago from India

      Congratulations on the hub of the day

      Very detailed article on infant colic

      It is very helpful for new mothers.

    • profile image

      Marsha 4 years ago

      I'm testing this to see if my friends can check out hubpages and comment if they don't want to start an account here.

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 4 years ago from Northern Ireland

      My granddaughter had this. It seems that she had reflux (her father and uncle also had this) and colic. These are two different problems. What helped her was (a) being fed upright (as you said) and then being kept upright for 40 minutes after a feed and (b) lying on her stomach in her cot when put down to sleep. I know that all the rules say "don't lay the baby on their stomach" but this really does help babies with reflux. We kept a careful eye on her when sleeping. The other problem of colic appears to be caused when the breastfed baby gets only the foremilk and not the hind milk. This means they have not fed long enough on one side. The fore milk and hind milk have different constitutions and the baby needs both so as not to have colic (in a colicky baby). By ensuring that the baby fed long on one side, so the hind milk also came down, the baby was less likely to suffer colic.

    • go-barbara-go profile image

      go-barbara-go 4 years ago

      My daughter on her 0 - 4 months had this condition. Later, the doctor said it has something to do with her digestive system. He prescribed a formula with no sugar content, and that solved the problem. This article helps all mothers out there who have the same problem as mine.

      Great hub!

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

      Congrats on the HOTD! I wish I had known this information when I had my baby in the 80´s. I´m sure this is a great help for new mothers out there. Thanks for sharing.

    • georgialgal1984 profile image

      Mrs Clark 4 years ago from United States

      Congrats on Hub Of The Day!!! Hope your day is wonderful!

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 4 years ago from Prescott Valley

      Thanks! On a baby kick this week I guess. Lol I'm glad you liked it.

    • My Cook Book profile image

      Dil Vil 4 years ago from India

      Informative article, i have learnt a new thing today. Thanks for the same, great work!