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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Father holding colicky baby

Surviving Colic. Is it Gas, Pain, or Something Else?

My firstborn cried a lot. I mean, a lot. It felt like he cried all the time despite my endless efforts to soothe him. I had him before I was a pediatrician and remember when I was in class one day and heard the medical definition of colic:

“Periods of constant crying lasting at least 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, for at least 3 weeks. It typically begins around 2 weeks of age, peaks at about 6 weeks, and is usually resolved by 3 to 4 months.”

That wasn’t a completely adequate description of the experience we’d had. My son cried every night, all night. It was hard to watch him cry. And it felt like something must be wrong with him.

In general babies cry for many reasons – when they’re hungry, hot, cold, in pain, or uncomfortable. They cry when they’re tired or overstimulated – and sometimes it appears they cry just out of boredom!

Most pediatricians agree that a baby who cries too much – especially in clusters of hours of constant crying in the evening and when there’s no reason for it – has colic.

This is a better definition – but you know, there are a few things doctors don’t always remember to say to new parents. Colic is not your fault! You have done nothing to cause it, and you can’t make it go away. Colic is also really, really hard on parents, who often start crying along with their babies – I know I did at times!

Colic is not a serious medical problem

Even with all that crying, nothing medically seems to be wrong with colicky babies. They eat normally and gain weight well. It might look like their stomach hurts, when they clench their fists and stiffen their stomach and legs when crying. They may arch their back or pull their legs up. But when we examine them – there’s no serious medical problem causing all that drama.

Now to be clear, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and blood or mucus in the stool is not a symptom of colic. If your baby has any of these, please talk with your pediatrician.

With my colicky firstborn, I worried all his crying meant something was wrong. I worried that the crying itself might hurt him. And I worried it would predict his future personality.

Do colicky infants differ in their future behavior, personality, or development? Current research doesn’t support this. In fact, a recent study shows babies with colic whose crying resolves on its own don’t experience any negative effects in behavior, temperament, or development, and any stress from colic is short-lived.

So hang in there and have faith colic will pass without lasting harm to your baby. I know that you will always remember how hard it was, though!

But for now, learn as many ways to calm your crier as you can – and don’t forget to take care of yourself, take breaks, and accept help.

Find more resources for parents:

The American Academy of Parents
How to Calm a Fussy Baby: Tips for Parents & Caregivers

My Doctor Online
Colic
Crying or Colic?

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