Infant Colic Diagnosis and Causes

Baby is crying
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Your baby has been fussy, and people around you keep mentioning the possibility of infant colic. Perhaps you are not sure if her periods of crying are normal for a newborn baby, or if there is something more to it. Before attempting any suggested treatments, it is a good idea to find out if the signs and symptoms she is displaying truly fall under the umbrella of "colic." Once you have a better idea of what the problem is, you will know how to better handle it.

Definition of Infant Colic

First, it's important to understand that a baby who is often fussy or irritated does not necessarily have colic. Colic is a term used to describe an otherwise healthy, well-nourished baby who experiences sustained and near predictable periods of inconsolable crying.

The Rule of Threes

When diagnosing a baby with colic, doctors often fall to the "Rule of Threes":

  • 3 hours of sustained, uncontrollable crying.
  • Appearing at or before 3 weeks of age.
  • Occurring at least 3 days out of every week for at least 3 weeks. Often the crying occurs at near the same time of day, most frequently during the early evening hours.
  • Ending at around 3 months of age, though some cases have been reported to last for 6 months.

The Overwhelming Cry of a Colicky Baby

There is a distinct difference in the cry of a baby who is merely fussy and a baby who is crying because she has colic. The sound of a colic cry is beyond the familiar cries that say, "I need to be (fed/ burped/changed/left alone)." When a baby experiences colic, their cries are often high-pitched and overwhelming in intensity.

For the parents, it often feels quite futile because there is little that can be done during this continuous period of distress that will soothe their baby.

Ruling out Other Problems

Before the problem is simply labeled "colicky baby," it is important to make sure that the cause of fussiness is not something else, like not receiving enough milk or formula, a digestive issue, or reflux. You should ask yourself the following questions. If you answer no to many of them, be sure to sit down with your pediatrician and relay these other symptoms to him.

  • Am I changing at least 5 to 8 wet diapers a day?
  • Do my baby's stools appear to be normal?
  • Does my baby show extended periods of calm and contentment?
  • Does my baby feed well (eats without fussing and lacks issues with excessive spit up)?


No one is completely certain what exactly causes colic. Some theorize it is simply a reflection of an immature digestive system and that the baby needs a "fourth trimester" outside of the womb to fully develop. Others suggest that it has to do with a food intolerance to lactose, while others write colic off as being an aspect of the baby's temperament and personality.

Though there is no definitive answer to the cause of colic, it is well-researched that babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy and babies who are exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to have colic.


Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer to solve the problem of colic. Some parents swear that one of the following methods was their saving grace. Perhaps, one of these methods will work for you:

  • Infant Massage
  • Consider your baby's diet. Perhaps a change in formula is necessary or the breastfeeding mother needs to make changes to her diet.
  • Use swaddling techniques or carry her in a sling.
  • Use motion from a swing, a walk in the stroller, or a ride in her car seat.
  • Pace her feedings so that she feeding more often throughout the day, but drinking less at each feeding.
  • Simethicone drops may help reduce gas pain.
  • Many homeopathic remedies are on the market, but there is little research on whether these methods work as intended.

Parent Needs

If you find that you simply cannot take the crying, give yourself a break. Swaddle your baby tightly, place her in the safety of her crib, and walk away. Call a family member or a friend for help. It is important for you to have a period of calm so that you can rejuvenate as well.

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