What is Colic in Babies

Baby Colic

Colic is often given as the reason for crying in a young and otherwise healthy and thriving baby. Where there does not seem to a physical reason for a young baby to cry and fuss, colic can be a fair assessment for what they’re experiencing.  

There are many reasons why babies cry.  The truth is that lots of times we don’t know the true reason for their distress.   


Every baby is an individual and has their own personality and temperament. Some babies are just calmer and more at ease than others, and it seems that not much bothers them. Others are more sensitive and react to the slightest change in their feeding and care. 

Young babies cry for all sorts of reasons. Their temperament, sleeping and feeding patterns as well as how they are cared for, all influence how frequently they cry. As babies mature their crying becomes more about communication, and wanting to relate to people around them. 

Bouts of crying evolve to spread over the whole day, rather than concentrated in one intense period of time.

What’s Normal?

  • It’s estimated that around one in five babies experiences colic in their early months of life.
  • Colic is more common in babies aged between 2-4 weeks of age. It peaks at around 6-8 weeks and gradually settles by 3 months of age.
  • It’s fairly normal for newborns to fuss and cry for up to three hours each day.
  • For parents to feel unsure. A certain amount of guesswork, as well as trial and error, is required in parenting.  Sometimes we can feel pretty certain about the reason for our baby’s crying, and others times it’s a mystery.  
  • In the newborn period it’s normal for babies to go through periods of unexplained and regular crying each day. This usually happens between the ages of about two weeks and 12 weeks.
  • Bouts of crying may last for three hours or more, and occur mostly in the afternoons and evenings.
  • The baby often looks like they are experiencing tummy pain as they pull up their legs and go red in the face.

Symptoms of colic

  • Crying and going red in the face
  • Pulling up their legs and waving their legs around
  • Facial grimacing and frowning
  • Periods of quiet and calm and then loud, gusty cries
  • Tummy grumbling, passing wind and perhaps a distended tummy
  • A baby who is difficult to console

What Causes Colic?

The true answer is that we don’t really know. There are many theories for colic but the true cause is still unknown.

Perhaps colic is caused by:

  • The baby feeling overwhelmed by stimuli. The nervous system of a young baby is very immature and they can’t verbalise their distress. Crying is the only way they can verbally communicate.  Varying the pitch and intensity of their cry sends different messages of distress. 
  • A mother’s diet may contribute to colic symptoms. There is some disagreement about this. However, some foods seem to trigger symptoms in individual babies, suggesting food allergy or intolerance. Particular foods, when eaten by a breastfeeding mother, can be culprits when it comes to influencing infant colic. These are cabbage, broccoli, bran and onions.   
  • Medications and drugs in the mother’s diet may also contribute to infant colic. Caffeine and nicotine, as well as illicit drugs, can all impact.
  • The baby adjusting to feeding, digesting and eliminating milk. During the long months of pregnancy, all their nutrition was being supplied via the mother’s bloodstream. The baby passively received all the goodness they needed to grow. Once they are born babies become independent.  Adjusting to life outside the womb can take a while.

What’s Frustrating About Colic

Despite all the patting, rocking and soothing, it can be very difficult to calm a baby who’s going through a bout of colic. Colic also tends to peak at the end of the day, when there’s a lot for parents to do and less energy for them to expend.

It’s easy for parents to become frustrated by their baby’s crying, especially when it’s happening day after day.


  • Care well for yourself. There will be times when you need to hand your baby over to another trusted adult, walk away and just have a break.
  • Plan for times when colic is likely to happen. Make dinner ahead of time and organise older children to keep busy so they’re not too demanding. 
  • Remind yourself that most babies outgrow colic by 3 months of age. This is a short period of time and will pass.
  • Ask for help. Most people are reasonable and keen to offer support if they can.

What we Know to be True About Colic

  • It almost always settles as the baby gets older. By around 3 months of age a baby’s digestion and gut has matured and this helps.
  • The true cause for colic isn’t known and it almost always stops without treatment by 3 months of age.
  • When parents are stressed, this can increase a baby’s colic symptoms. However, it can be very hard to stay calm during hours of baby crying.
  • Comforting and soothing by parents often helps. A colicky baby can become very distressed and they need reassurance.
  • Colicky periods peak in the later afternoon and evening. As the day progresses, the baby becomes more unsettled and there can be a few hours of crying and fussiness later in the day.
  • Colic does not cause the baby any physical harm. As long as they are thriving and reaching their developmental milestones, it is unlikely there is anything medically wrong.

Would Changing My Diet Help?

Some babies are particularly sensitive to foods in their mother’s diet. Cow’s milk protein can cause symptoms of tummy upset in a breastfeeding baby, as can lactose intolerance. Before changing your diet or eliminating particular foods, it’s important you speak with a healthcare professional. 

Lactating mothers have unique needs for specific nutrients and deficiencies can cause problems with themselves and/or their baby.

What can I do for my Baby’s Colic?

  • First, check the basics. Is your baby comfortable, hungry, too hot or cold or just wanting some cuddles? Look for  simple solutions before progressing onto more complicated possibilities.
  • Try to settle your baby for a sleep. Crying is a tired sign and frequently peaks when babies need to have a nap.
  • Hold, rock and soothe your baby.
  • Try using white noise as a distraction for you both.
  • Swaddle your baby in a light muslin or cotton wrap. Remember to always follow the safe sleeping guidelines recommended by experts.
  • Give your baby a deep, warm bath.
  • Massage their tummy in a clockwise direction and bicycle their legs whilst holding gently onto their ankles.
  • Offer your baby extra breastfeeds. If you’re formula feeding, consider if they are hungry and want an extra feed.
  • Offer your baby a dummy if you feel this won’t interrupt their breast or formula feeding.
  • Think creatively about what your baby may need. You know your little one better than anyone else, so feel confident about the decisions you make to soothe them.

Tips to Manage Baby Colic

  1. Be kind to yourself. There will be many times when you don’t know what is wrong with your baby or how to comfort them. Be mindful that just being physically and emotionally close may sometimes be all that you can do.
  2. Get out of the house if you can. Put your baby in a pouch/sling or pram and go for a walk. The movement will help you both.
  3. Remind yourself that this time will pass. Almost always, intense periods of infant crying settle by around three months.
  4. Check in regularly with your child health nurse. If you’re struggling, it may be helpful for you to receive support from an early parenting centre.


Always speak and check with a qualified nurse or healthcare professional about your baby’s colic or behaviour to understand what your baby’s individual needs are.