What is Colic or Excessive Crying in a Newborn?

Colic is a problem that affects some babies during the first three to four months of life. It can be very stressful and frustrating to parents. Physicians have defined colic as prolonged or excessive crying in an infant who is otherwise well. The crying can be very loud and can last for several hours a day. Colic often starts by 3 weeks of age, is at its worst around 6 weeks, and gradually gets better by about 3 months of age. It is not clear what causes colic. Some of the reasons babies may have colic include the following:

  • Adjusting to One Another

    Colic may relate to the adjustments that a new baby and his/her parents have to make to each other. Babies obviously cannot talk. Until they learn to talk, one way they communicate with adults is by crying. Parents have to learn to interpret the reasons their baby is crying, and then determine what to do to make the baby happy. Is the baby hungry? Wet? Cold? Hot? Tired? Bored? A baby will cry for these reasons as well as for other problems, and parents must try to determine what is causing their baby stress, often by trial and error. New parents, especially, may have trouble reading their baby's cues and responding appropriately. The baby may continue to cry simply because his/her needs have not yet been met.

  • Temperament and Adjusting to the World

    Newborns must also make adjustments to the world they are living in. Not all babies have the same temperament. Some adjust to lights, loud noises, and all the other stimulation around them with no trouble, while others are not able to adapt as easily. Just like adults, some babies are easy-going, and some are impatient. Crying may be one way for a baby to vent feelings as he or she is getting adjusted to the world.

    Babies have been noted to cry for specific lengths of time every day, as they are getting used to the world and as their parents are learning to interpret their needs.

  • Oversensitive to Gas

    Another possible reason for excessive crying in babies might be that they are oversensitive to gas in the intestine. The normal amount of gas that is produced as food is digested may be more uncomfortable for some babies than others. If a baby with colic seems to pass more gas than other babies do, it is probably due to swallowing more air while crying for prolonged periods of time.

  • Milk Allergy

    It is rare for colic to be caused by a true milk allergy. However, some babies may be more sensitive to cow's milk based formulas. Your baby's physician may recommend changing formulas to a soy-based rather than cow's milk based formula to see if this helps relieve the symptoms of colic.

Dealing with colic:

Learning how to interpret your baby's cry can be helpful in dealing with colic. It does take some time for parents and babies to become accustomed to each other. Remember, babies will cry for a certain length of time every day under normal circumstances.

Other suggestions include the following:

  • Make sure your baby is not hungry, but do not force feed if he/she is not interested in the bottle or breast.
  • Change your baby's position. Sit him/her up if lying down. Let your baby face forward if you are carrying or holding him/her facing your chest. Babies like to see different views of the world.
  • Give your baby interesting things to look at: different shapes, colors, textures, and sizes. Talk to your baby. Sing softly to your baby.
  • Rock your baby.
  • Walk your baby.
  • Place your baby in an infant swing on a slow setting.
  • Let your baby lay on his/her belly on your lap or on the bed, and rub his/her back. Never leave your baby unattended on a bed, sofa, or other soft surface.
  • Go for a ride in the car. The motion of the car often soothes babies.
  • Try using something in your child's room that makes a repetitive sound, like a wind-up alarm clock or heartbeat audio tape.
  • Hold and cuddle your baby. Babies cannot be spoiled by too much attention. However, they can have problems later in life if they are ignored and their needs are not met as infants.

Let an adult family member or friend (or a responsible babysitter) care for your baby from time to time so that you can take a break. Taking care of yourself and lowering your stress level may help your baby as well.