Colic is an attack of crying and what appears to be abdominal pain in early infancy (babies). Colic is a common condition and is estimated to affect at least 20% of babies during their first few months.
All babies cry for various reasons; hunger, cold, tiredness, heat, or because the diaper (nappy) needs changing. However, a baby may cry even after being well fed, cleaned, nicely wrapped up and well cared for. If a baby has repeated episodes of inconsolable crying but appears to be healthy and well, they may have colic.
Contents of this article:
Fast facts on colic
Here are some key points about colic. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Colic is characterized by long bouts of crying for no obvious reason
- Currently, colic is not fully understood by medical science
- Only 5% of babies that cry excessively have an underlying condition
- There are a number of different conditions referred to as "colics"
- Colic generally only lasts a number of weeks
- The major symptoms of colic are excessive crying and disturbed sleep
- Smoking during pregnancy might increase the risk of colic
- The diagnosis of colic predominantly consists of ruling out other illnesses
- Home treatments for colic can be effective.
What is colic?
Colic only normally lasts a number of weeks but can be very stressful for the family.
Experts say that colic has no long-term effects and a baby with colic will gain weight and feed normally.
For parents, seeing a baby cry inconsolably can be distressing and upsetting, making them feel that they are either doing things wrongly or letting their child down.
It is important to remember that, if it is colic, it is a common phase which will eventually go away and has nothing to do with bad parenting. Colic is relatively short-lived - in a matter of weeks or months one of the first major challenges of parenthood will be over.
This article will focus on baby colic, but there are a number of other colics. These are listed below to avoid confusion:
- Renal colic: abdominal pain generally caused by kidney stones. The pain can be constant or come in waves
- Biliary colic: pain caused by a gallstone obstructing the cystic duct as the gallbladder contracts
- Horse colic: a symptom of a number disease in horses
- Devon colic: an affliction that struck the people of Devon in the 17th and 18th centuries caused by the lead used in cider making
- Painter's colic: lead poisoning.
Symptoms of colicThe following symptoms will appear in an otherwise healthy and well fed baby:
- Intense crying - the baby cries intensely and furiously, and there is not much the parents can do to comfort him/her. The baby's face will become red and flushed. Crying episodes tend to occur at the same time every day - generally during the late afternoon or evening. Episodes may last from a few minutes to much longer periods. Crying usually starts suddenly and for no apparent reason
- Baby's posture - fists may be clenched, tensed abdominal muscles, knees drawn up, and the back arched
- Sleeping - sleep may be irregular and interrupted with episodes of crying
- Feeding - feeding may also be interrupted and irregular with episodes of intense crying. However, the amount the baby eats each day is not reduced
- Wind - during episodes of intense crying, the baby may pass wind
- Varying intensities - with some babies, symptoms are mild and the baby may only experience periods of restlessness.
On the next page, we look at the causes of colic, diagnosis and some home treatments.