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Newborn Medical Series: Colic

Ahh- the dreaded colic. Besides something that leads to many sleepless nights, what exactly is colic?

Colic is the term doctors use when babies cry much more than usual for no obvious reason during the first 3 months of their life. It is normal for babies to cry up to 2 hours per day. Babies with colic usually cry more than 3 hours a day, on more than 3 days a week. Bouts of colic usually start suddenly and happen in the evening. Colic usually goes away on its own when a baby is three or four months old. But sometimes it lasts a few months longer.

Babies can cry more than usual when they are hurt, sick, hungry, too hot or cold, or too tired. Babies can also cry more than usual if they are allergic to the formula or to foods and their mother’s breastmilk. If none of these things seem to be true, and your baby cries enough to meet the criteria above, your baby may have colic.

How is colic different than regular crying?

  • The crying and colic is louder and more high-pitched. Babies often sound as if they are screaming or in pain.

  • Parents are often not able to comfort or soothe her baby during a bout of colic.

  • Baby could have a hard belly, stiff arms, or arched back during a bout of colic.

Is there any testing for colic?

There’s no test to check for colic. Your doctor or nurse should be able to tell if your baby has it by talking with you and doing an exam.

Is there treatment for colic?

While there is no treatment like a medication or therapy, there are some things you can do to help.

  • Use a bottle that keeps your baby from swallowing too much air

  • Have your baby sit up during these feedings

  • Carry your baby more in your arms, a sling, or a front carrier

  • Take your baby for a ride in the car

  • Give your baby a warm bath

  • Put your baby in a baby swing

  • Swaddle your baby

  • Put your baby near a clothes dryer or other source of background noise

  • Massage your baby’s belly

  • Change your baby’s formula or avoid eating certain foods if you breastfeed. Before trying these, be sure to talk with your doctor or nurse.

When should I call my doctor or nurse?

  • If your baby is younger than three months old and has a fever

  • If your baby cries for longer than two hours without stopping

  • If your baby refuses to eat or drink, is vomiting, or has bloody bowel movements

  • If your baby is not responding to you or acting normally

  • If you are afraid that you might have hurt your baby. Shaking, hitting, or hurting a baby can cause serious damage. If you think you may have hurt your baby, even without meaning to, call for help

  • If your baby is older than four months and still having colic

  • If your baby is not gaining weight normally

Having a baby with colic can be overwhelming. It can be exhausting, stressful, and frustrating. Try to remember that your baby’s colic is not your fault, and that colic almost always goes away within a few months.

If possible, take turns with your partner so you both get breaks from your babies crying. It’s also OK to put your baby in a crib, bassinet, or other safe place for a few minutes while you take a break. Try to call a friend or relative if you need help. In the United States, there is also a parent helpline that you can call anytime. (1-800-422-4453)

If you need a break, be sure to take ones that you don’t hurt your baby. Shaking, hitting, or hurting a baby can cause serious brain problems, or even death. Talk to your doctor or nurse if you’re having a very hard time or need more support. In some cases, it can help to talk with a counselor who is trained on ways to handle colic. Again, it is not your fault your baby has colic!

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out.

As always- like, comment, and share!

Jeri Ford, RN, BSN, CPN


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