What is colic?

Colic is a common and frustrating condition where babies have periods of frequent, inconsolable crying. Approximately one-quarter of all babies are diagnosed with colic in the first few weeks of life. The constant fussing and crying can leave parents feeling exhausted and helpless. However, it is important for parents to understand that colic eventually ends and that there is nothing wrong with their baby.


What causes colic?

The reasons for infantile colic are multifactorial and not yet fully understood. Some scientists believe that the condition is related to problems with gut motility and an imbalance in the microbiota of the baby’s immature gastrointestinal tract. Others believe that hypersensitivity to new sights and sounds that an infant experiences may also be a factor.


Gut motility = a good gut feeling

Gut motility refers to the contractions of muscles that break down food when food travels through the digestive tract. When functioning correctly, this is how the digestive system works for both adults and children. If, for some reason, a child’s gut motility is not fully developed or is disrupted, it may cause pain and excessive gas and lead to conditions such as colic, constipation or regurgitation.


Colic and the role of gut bacteria

Clinical studies have shown that babies with colic have lower counts of good bacteria as well as an increased number of harmful bacteria in their digestive tracts and greater levels of inflammation. This can cause all sorts of digestive problems, including colic.

Studies have shown that certain strains of probiotics can reduce crying time, especially in breastfed babies.

Read more about our important gut bacteria


How do I know if my baby has colic?

Your baby may have colic if he or she is under five months of age and has frequent and prolonged periods of crying, fussing, or irritability without apparent cause. Furthermore, no amount of consoling from the caregiver seems to bring the baby relief. Crying usually begins around the same time each day, usually in the afternoon or evening. Colic typically peaks at six weeks and improves significantly at four months.

Additional symptoms that occur during crying periods include:

  • Excessive gas
  • A red face
  • Bunched up fists
  • Legs pulled up to the chest
  • Angrier and more painful-sounding cries

When to see a doctor

Babies with colic are healthy and do not necessarily need to see a doctor. However, there are some conditions that appear similar to colic, including acid reflux or allergies to milk or other proteins.

Consult a paediatrician if:

  • Your child has a fever
  • Your child is vomiting frequently
  • Your child seems lethargic and does not want to eat
  • Your child does not gain weight properly
  • The problems continue past four months of age

Take care of your baby…and yourself

Caring for a colicky child can be upsetting and exhausting, especially for first-time parents. However, parents should remember that they didn’t cause the colic and that it will eventually resolve. Parents dealing with colicky babies are more prone to anxiety and postnatal depression. Whenever needed, parents should seek advice from healthcare professionals and seek support from friends, family, and neighbours.

Ways to soothe colicky babies

While every baby is different, and what soothing techniques work for one may not work for another, below is a list of soothing strategies worth trying if your baby has colic:

  • Cuddling, rocking, or gently bouncing your baby
  • Massaging your baby’s belly in a gentle, clockwise motion to release gas
  • Taking your baby out for a ride in a stroller or car
  • Using a white noise machine
  • Giving your baby a pacifier
  • Using angled baby bottles to reduce air swallowing and gas
  • Swaddling your baby in a blanket
  • Giving your baby a warm bath
  • If breastfeeding, removing dairy, soy and other allergens from your diet
  • Preventing exposure to tobacco


Key facts about colic:

  • One in four babies are diagnosed with colic
  • Colic usually ends around the fourth month of age
  • A colicky baby is not an unhealthy baby
  • Crying is often worse in the evening but can occur at any time
  • Colic has multifactorial causes that are not fully understood
  • It is believed that colicky babies have lower concentrations of good bacteria
  • Colic usually occurs between the ages of six and eight weeks