Infant colic

Infant colic is ongoing crying without an obvious cause in otherwise healthy babies. It can be very stressful to manage but usually passes by 16 weeks of age.

(NHS, UK) 

What are the symptoms of colic in babies?

Colic begins around 2 weeks of age. Most babies grow out of it by 16 weeks. Babies who suffer from colic will cry inconsolably for several hours at a time, without an obvious reason. They may clench their fists and draw their legs up to their tummies.

The crying episodes often occur in the late afternoon or early evening. Sometimes it ends with the passing of a bowel motion or gas, or the baby may simply cry him or herself to sleep.

What are the causes of colic in babies?

The cause of colic is not known but it is not considered to be harmful. Some theories are that the baby's gut hasn't fully developed or that the gut bacteria is out of balance, but these theories have not been proven.

Sometimes other conditions such as reflux, lactose intolerance or cows' milk allergy may be the cause. If it is colic, your baby is otherwise healthy. He or she will be happy between crying episodes and feeding and gaining weight as normal.

Babies of mothers who smoke or take nicotine replacement therapy during pregnancy are more likely to develop colic.

How can I help my baby with colic?

Looking after a baby with colic can be exhausting and stressful. While there is no cure for colic, most babies will outgrow it by 16 weeks of age. Here are some tips to help a baby with colic:

  • Hold your baby upright during feeds and burp him or her afterwards.
  • If your baby is breastfed and seems worse after you have eaten certain foods, or if there is a family history of food allergies, consider avoiding these foods for a couple of weeks to see if the colic improves. 
  • If your baby is bottle-fed, consider changing the type of bottle or formula you use. 
  • Discuss alternative formula options with your doctor or Plunket nurse. Read more about infant formula.
  • Hold your baby during crying episodes. Play soothing music or white noise and keep the lights dimmed. 
  • Babies like movement. Try gentle swaying or pushing them in a pram. Use a front pack or sling that allows you to carry your baby while you get on with some activities.
  • A warm bath or a gentle stomach rub might comfort your baby.

Read more about how to care for a crying baby.

Looking after yourself

Colic often seems to be worst when parents are tired themselves, so it is just as important to look after yourself as your baby. Your baby's colic is not your fault.

  • Be prepared – if your baby is likely to require your undivided attention for several hours in the evening, plan to keep those hours free.
  • Be creative – the rest of the family can eat dinner and have baths early for a few months if needed.
  • Eat a nourishing snack before an anticipated crying episode.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Ask for and accept offers of help – caring for a baby with colic is not a one-person job.
  • Keep in contact with your doctor, practice nurse or Plunket nurse (PlunketLine 0800 933 922) and follow their recommendations. You can also phone Healthline on 0800 611 116 for advice. 
  • Hang in there! At the time it may seem that the colic will never end, but feel confident that it will pass.

Learn more

Crying baby – what to do KidsHealth NZ
The period of purple crying National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, USA

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial team. Reviewed By: Dr Derek Luo, consultant gastroenterologist, Counties Manukau Health Last reviewed: 15 Sep 2016