Colic: what is it?

Colic: what is it?

What is colic?

Colic is crying and fussing that happens a lot, or lasts for a long time. It might start when your baby is a few days or a few weeks old.

If your baby has colic, he'll be unsettled and fussy about feeding. For example, he might feed hungrily, but soon after a feed he seems to be hungry again. Or your baby might not feed well, often fussing at the breast or bottle.

You might find that your baby spends long periods unsettled or grizzling, but she might also cry very loudly. During this crying period, your baby might draw her legs up, as if in pain. It's very difficult or even impossible to settle or comfort your baby when she's in this state. Nothing you do seems to make any difference.

The crying and fussing might seem to go on for hours, and it's often worse in the evening.

It can be very upsetting for you, and often frustrating for other carers, doctors and nurses as well. But if your baby cries and fusses, it doesn't mean you're a bad parent. The most confident and calm parents can also have babies who cry a lot.

A few babies with 'colic' symptoms have medical problems, so it's a good idea to see your GP to rule this out if your baby is crying a lot.

Crying and fussing: what to expect

Crying and fussing are normal for babies. On average, babies cry and fuss for almost three hours a day - and some for a lot longer than this. The crying reaches a peak at about six weeks of age, and then gradually lessens as babies get older.

Most of this crying and fussing seems to happen in the late afternoon and evening, although this can change from day to day.

Younger babies cry because of their temperament, sleeping cycles and feeding patterns. As babies get older, their crying is more about communicating with you or about something in their environment. Because of this, it's more likely to be spread throughout the day.

It's natural for you to worry about your baby's crying. It might help to know that most babies cry less by 3-5 months of age. This is a phase that will soon pass.

Causes of colic

We still don't know much about what causes colic.

Colic might be caused by too much stimulation. Crying might help a newborn take control of his environment. It's as if your baby is saying, 'Enough! I'm just going to cry to shut out the world'.

It might help you to know that most 'colicky' babies have no obvious physical or medical cause for their crying. But if your baby is fussing and crying a lot, it's a good idea to see your GP or paediatrician to rule out these possible causes:

  • gastroesophageal reflux - a rare but possible cause of crying
  • infection - for example, ear infections or urinary tract infections
  • hernia - for example, inguinal or umbilical hernias
  • nerves - for example, an irritable nervous system or neurological immaturity
  • allergy - for example, to mother's diet or to cow's milk
  • nappy rash or other source of irritation.
Our grown-ups section has lots of articles on maintaining your wellbeing and coping with stress if your baby's fussing and crying are making things hard for you.