Cure for a Colicky Baby?

Time is cure for a colicky baby


The colicky baby ... the inconsolable little soul.  We've all heard them--heck you might be listening to one right now.  But what to do for the colicky little one whose cries drive some to madness?

Very little.

Although you may be able to pick up on behavioral cues and avoid some episodes of colicky crying, for the most part, you just have to wait out the colic.  Remember that colic is a normal process.

  It doesn't happen because you baby's bowels ache.  And very rarely does colic resolve after a switch from cow-based formula or eliminating cow's milk from the nursing mother's diet.

What is colic?

A colicky baby experiences episodes of severe and paroxysmal crying typically late in the afternoon.  The baby may appear with balled fists and knees flexed.  The face of a colicky baby appears distressed and pained.  Moreover, the baby may be passing gas or flatus, too.  As you may attest to, little can be done to soothe the colicky baby. 

Other definitions of colicky baby peg the cries at more than 3 hours a day and 3 days a week at 3 months or older ("rule of threes").  Of note, the infant must be well fed and cared for.  Additionally, the cry can't be traced to any specific etiology or secondary cause (like corneal abrasion, urinary tract infection, sepsis, incarcerated ulcer, trauma or child abuse).

Colic typically begins in newborns at one week of life, peaks at 2 months of age and resolves after a few months of birth.  In about 30 to 40 percent of cases, colic extends into the fourth or fifth month of life.

In case you're wondering, at 2 weeks of age, babies without colic cry up to 2 hours a day.

  The length of crying peaks at about 3 hours at 6 weeks and wanes from that point onward.  Normal 3-month-olds cry for about 1 hour a day.

Some have suggested that colic represents an issue with your baby's sleep-wake cycle.  Others have suggested it's a problem with state regulation.  

State regulation: Catching colic before a crying spell

In babies with colic, the two most notable states are the crying state and the transitional state.  During the colicky state, there's little you can do except ride out the crying.  However, the transitional state is liminal, and you may be able to pick up on infant cues and act during this state.

Some interventions that have worked during this transitional state include placing the infant in a quiet environment with little physical disruption.  These actions may help the baby self-soothe.  Other interventions can be rhythmic: gentle rocking back and forth or taking the baby for a stroll or a car ride.

Behavioral modifications likely also involve the parent.

  You shouldn't get angry at a colicky baby or feel that the baby is a "spoiled brat."  These negative emotions seep their way into how you handle your baby (rough behavior).  A baby can feel this negativity which contributes to a transition into a crying state.

Of additional note, you should always let your baby feed to completion and burp comfortably afterward.  Rushing feeding time contributes to a general state of fussiness and predisposes the baby to a crying or colicky spell.  You may also want to consider increasing the frequency of the feedings and, if excessive, cutting down the volume of formula given so as to avoid gastric tension.  In other words, a really full belly may contribute to colicky crying state in some.

Do medications work for the colicky baby?

No.  There are no medications approved for the treatment of colicky baby, and any medications carry the risk of adverse effects.  Nevertheless, some pharmacologic interventions have been tried and include the following:

  • Some attempts have been used to decrease gas or flatus in colicky newborns using simethicone. 
  • Attempts have been used to decrease gut motility using dicyclomine and a phenobarbital elixir.  Although these medications help, they are contraindicated in the colicky infant due to adverse effects.  For example, dicyclomine is dangerous because it may cause apnea in an infant.
  • Lots of kids with colic may, in fact, have GERD (acid reflux).  In these cases, research suggests that a trial of ranitidine hydrochloride, a proton-pump inhibitor, might help.
  • As mentioned early, rarely an infant might benefit from a switch from the cow-based formula.

If you have (or know) a colicky baby, please be patient with her.  All that might be done for a colicky baby is behavioral.  In other words, your calm, caring, compassionate and intuitive behavior may help you obviate a crying spell.  Rest assured that colic passes with time.  After all, have you ever seen a colicky adult?  (Okay, not the greatest example ... )

Selected Sources

Goldson E, Reynolds A. Child Development & Behavior. In: CURRENT Diagnosis & Treatment: Pediatrics, 22e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2013.  Accessed February 08, 2015.

Kharbanda AB, Sawaya RD. Chapter 124. Acute Abdominal Pain in Children. In: Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 7e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2011. Accessed February 08, 2015.

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