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Colic is persistent, unexplained crying in a healthy baby between two weeks and five months of age.


Colic, which is not a disease, affects 10-20% of all infants. It is more common in boys than in girls and most common in a family's first child. Symptoms of colic usually appear when a baby is 14-21 days old, reach a crescendo at the age of three months, and disappear within the next eight weeks. Episodes occur frequently but intermittently and usually begin with prolonged periods of crying in the late afternoon or evening. They can last for just a few minutes or continue for several hours. Some babies who have colic are simply fussy. Others cry so hard that their faces turn red, then pale.

Causes and symptoms

No one knows what causes colic. The condition may be the result of swallowing large amounts of air, which becomes trapped in the digestive tract and causes bloating and severe abdominal pain.
Other possible causes of colic include:
  • digestive tract immaturity
  • food intolerances
  • hunger or overfeeding
  • lack of sleep
  • loneliness
  • overheated milk or formula
  • overstimulation resulting from noise, light, or activity
  • tension
During a colicky episode, babies' bellies often look swollen, feel hard, and make a rumbling sound. Crying intensifies, tapers off, then gets louder. Many babies grow rigid, clench their fists, curl their toes, and draw their legs toward their body. A burp or a bowel movement can end an attack. Most babies who have colic do not seem to be in pain between attacks.


Pediatricians and family physicians suspect colic in an infant who:
  • has cried loudly for at least three hours a day at least three times a week for three weeks or longer
  • is not hungry but cries for several hours between dinnertime and midnight
  • demonstrates the clenched fists, rigidity, and other physical traits associated with colic
The baby's medical history and a parent's description of eating, sleeping, and crying patterns are used to confirm a diagnosis of colic. Physical examination and laboratory tests are used to rule out infection, intestinal blockage, and other conditions that can cause abdominal pain and other colic-like symptoms.


Medications do not cure colic. Doctors sometimes recommend simethicone (Mylicon Drops) to relieve gas pain, but generally advise parents to take a practical approach to the problem.
Gently massaging the baby's back can release a trapped gas bubble, and holding the baby in a sitting position can help prevent air from being swallowed during feedings. Bottle-fed babies can swallow air if nipple holes are either too large or too small.
Nipple-hole size can be checked by filling a bottle with cold formula, turning it upside down, and counting the number of drops released when it is shaken or squeezed. A nipple hole that is the right size will release about one drop of formula every second.
Babies should not be fed every time they cry, but feeding and burping a baby more often may alleviate symptoms of colic. A bottle-fed baby should be burped after every ounce, and a baby who is breastfeeding should be burped every five minutes.
When cow's milk is the source of the symptoms, bottle-fed babies should be switched to a soy milk hydrolyzed protein formula. A woman whose baby is breastfeeding should eliminate dairy products from her diet for seven days, then gradually reintroduce them unless the baby's symptoms reappear.
Since intolerance to foods other than cow's milk may also lead to symptoms of colic, breastfeeding women may also relieve their babies' colic by eliminating from their diet:
  • coffee
  • tea
  • cocoa
  • citrus
  • peanuts
  • wheat
  • broccoli and other vegetables belonging to the cabbage family
Rocking a baby in a quiet, darkened room can prevent overstimulation, and a baby usually calms down when cuddled in a warm, soft blanket.
Colicky babies cry less when they are soothed by the motion of a wind-up swing, a car ride, or being carried in a parent's arms. Pacifiers can soothe babies who are upset, but a pacifier should never be attached to a string.
A doctor should be notified if a baby who has been diagnosed with colic:
  • develops a rectal fever higher than 101°F (38.3°C)
  • cries for more than four hours
  • vomits
  • has diarrhea or stools that are black or bloody
  • loses weight
  • eats less than normal

Alternative treatment

Applying gentle pressure to the webbed area between the thumb and index finger of either hand can calm a crying child. So can gently massaging the area directly above the child's navel and the corresponding spot on the spine. Applying warm compresses or holding your hand firmly over the child's abdomen can relieve cramping.
Teas made with chamomile (Matricaria recutita), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), peppermint (Mentha piperita), or dill (Anethum graveolens) can lessen bowel inflammation and reduce gas. A homeopathic combination called "colic" may be effective, and constitutional homeopathic treatment can help strengthen the child's entire constitution.


Colic is distressing, but it is not dangerous. Symptoms almost always disappear before a child is six months old.


Many doctors believe that colic cannot be prevented. Some alternative practitioners, however, feel that colic can be prevented by an awareness of food intolerances and their impact.



American Academy of Family Physicians. 8880 Ward Parkway, Kansas City, MO 64114. (816) 333-9700.
American Academy of Pediatrics. 141 Northwest Point Boulevard, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007-1098. (847) 434-4000.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


acute paroxysmal abdominal pain. It is particularly common during the first three months of life; the infant has paroxysmal, unexplained crying and may pull up arms and legs, turn red-faced, and expel gas from the anus or belch it up from the stomach. The exact cause of infantile colic is not known but several factors may contribute to it, including excessive swallowing of air, too rapid feeding or overfeeding, parental anxiety, allergy to milk, or other feeding problems. It generally occurs at the same time of day, usually at the busiest period. The parents need sympathetic support and assurance that the condition is not serious and most infants gain weight and are healthy in spite of the colic.
biliary colic colic due to passage of gallstones along the bile duct.
gastric colic gastrodynia.
lead colic colic due to lead poisoning.
menstrual colic dysmenorrhea.
renal colic intermittent, acute pain beginning in the kidney region and radiating forward and down to the abdomen, genitalia, and legs; the usual cause is calculi in a kidney or ureter. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diaphoresis, and a desire to urinate frequently.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. Relating to the colon.
2. Spasmodic pains in the abdomen.
3. In young infants, paroxysms of gastrointestinal pain with crying and irritability, typically occurring in late afternoon or early evening; of unknown etiology; affects infants from 3 weeks to 3 months of age.
[G. kōlikos, relating to the colon]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


1. Severe abdominal pain caused by spasm, obstruction, or distension of any of the hollow viscera, such as the intestines.
2. A condition of unknown cause seen in infants less than three months old, marked by periods of inconsolable crying lasting for hours at a time for at least three weeks.
adj. (also kō′lĭk)
Of, relating to, or affecting the colon.

col′ick·y (kŏl′ĭ-kē) adj.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


Pain that crescendos to a peak of severity and then slowly subsides.
Infantile colic—A common symptom of infants, in which paroxysmal abdominal pain of presumed GI origin is accompanied by irritability, tensing of muscles and severe crying, lasting until the infant is completely exhausted.
Uncertain, possibly air swallowing, overfeeding, cow’s milk allergy, undiluted juices and emotional stress; in the absence of organic causes (e.g., strangulated hernia, intussusception, pyelonephritis or others) no therapy gives consistent relief; infants often outgrow colic by 6 months of age.
Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.


Clinical medicine Pain that crescendos to a peak of severity and then slowly subsides. See Abdominal colic, Renal colic Pediatrics Infantile colic A common Sx of infants, in which paroxysmal abdominal pain of presumed GI origin is accompanied by irritability, tensing of muscles, severe crying, lasting until the infant is completely exhausted Etiology Uncertain, possibly air swallowing, overfeeding, cow's milk allergy, undiluted juices, and emotional stress; in absence of organic causes—strangulated hernia, intussusception, pyelonephritis, others—no therapy gives consistent relief; infants often outgrow colic by 6 months of age.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. Relating to the colon.
2. Spasmodic pains in the abdomen.
3. In young infants, paroxysms of gastrointestinal pain, with crying and irritability, due to a variety of causes, such as swallowing of air, emotional upset, or overfeeding.
[G. kōlikos, relating to the colon]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


Periodic spasms of pain caused by stretching of the walls of a hollow organ undergoing powerful contraction, often in the attempt to overcome a partial obstruction or to move a hard object, such as a stone.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005


Spasmodic pains in the abdomen.
[G. kōlikos, relating to the colon]
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012