Baby colic

Dear Alice,

I have a two-week-old baby who has been diagnosed with colic. The pediatrician suggested mylacon and Tylenol, but then I read an article about colic babies that said gas pain theory wasn't necessarily correct. Have you any additional information on colic and what can be done about it? Thanks.

Dear Reader,  

Even hearing the word “colic” reminds many parents of one of the most challenging parts of having a new baby. Colic is generally diagnosed when an infant experiences prolonged or excessive crying in an otherwise healthy infant. While the cause of colic is unknown, it’s usually accompanied by a stomach that’s hard and swollen, legs drawn up, hands clenched, and face that’s flushed. Colicky babies generally have these episodes at least three hours a day, at least three times a week. This period of time, which generally lasts to some degree from when the baby is six weeks old to three or four months old, can be really exhausting for parents and babies alike. While it’s often unpleasant, colic is somewhat common, affecting as many as 40 percent of babies under three months old. Despite years of research, experts haven’t found a consistent therapy that works for all colicky babies. The good news, though, is that colic almost always disappears by the time a baby is three months old. So even if you can’t find a treatment that works for you and your baby, you might find some comfort in knowing it won’t last forever!  

Even though there’s no standard of care for treating colicky babies, pediatricians and other health care providers will often suggest a variety of treatments to try to get babies (and their parents!) some relief, including:  

  • Establishing regular and careful feedings, including good burping  
  • Giving your baby a casein hydrolysate formula (for bottle-fed babies)  
  • Switching to low allergen maternal diet (if your baby is breastfed)  
  • Maintaining a calm atmosphere in the home  
  • Behavioral changes such as increased motion (such as a car ride) or "lap" work for the baby  

The lack of standard treatment for colic is likely due to the fact that it’s not clear what causes the condition in the first place. Theories suggest it could be related to an underdeveloped or sensitive digestive system, food allergies or intolerances, feeding habits, or other concerns such as childhood migraine or family stress.  

Talking with your child’s health care provider is a good first step towards getting a diagnosis and ruling out any other causes of their crying such as another condition or normal baby fussiness. It’s a good idea to keep in contact with your child’s health care provider, as the information you provide can help inform the care your child receives during this challenging time.  

The good news is that despite this difficult time, babies don’t suffer long-term effects once the colic passes. That being said, supporting a baby with colic can be a stressful time for parents.   Many often feel as if they’re not meeting their child’s needs because they’re not able to console their child. This simply isn’t the case. You’ve already shown how much you care about your newborn by reaching out to your pediatrician and doing some research of your own on the topic. Caring for yourself during this time while also caring for a newborn may be a challenge. Reaching out for support may help make it easier to meet your baby’s needs while also taking care of your own mental health. Sometimes having a baby with colic can feel isolating for parents whose friends and families don’t always understand what you and your baby are going through. For additional social support, you may want to check out support groups for parents who have babies have colic. If you’re finding it difficult to deal with the stress of having a baby with colic or if you just want someone to talk to, you might consider making an appointment with a mental health professional.  

Last updated Jul 09, 2021
Originally published Feb 16, 1996

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