What is Colic? Understanding and Managing Infant Colic

It is a natural reaction for us humans to feel discomfort when we hear a baby cry continuously. Instinctively, we want to pick up the baby and comfort it into silence. But when the crying does not cease, it becomes an enormous strain on the whole family. Here we explore colic in greater depth – from its symptoms to management techniques.

Annika Jerkfelt

Read time: 3 m

Verified by Annika Jerkfelt

Specialist trained District Nurse

What is Colic? Understanding and Managing Infant ColicPhoto: Preggers

Historical Background and Current Understanding

During the 1950s, pediatrician Morris Wessel established the first medical criteria for colic, described as a condition where "a healthy infant cries for more than three hours per day, at least three days a week, for at least three weeks." In 2016, these criteria were updated to ROME IV, which are now more based on parents' perceptions. The criteria describe colic as situations where "a healthy baby repeatedly has long periods of intense crying, irritability, or restlessness without an apparent cause and cannot be soothed."

The Clear Signs: What Does Colic Feel Like?

Parents often report that their child seems to suffer from abdominal pain. Signs of colic in infants often include tensing up, vigorous kicking, or arching their back like a tense violin string. They may also pull their legs up towards their stomach and become red in the face from exertion. Some babies cry so intensely that they barely have time to breathe, while others become hoarse from crying for several hours.

Problems with passing gas or difficulties with bowel movements are common. Many of the infants struggle during feeding, as they sometimes swallow a lot of air and may occasionally choke. Vomiting after breastfeeding or bottle-feeding is also common symptoms.

Having a child who cannot be soothed creates enormous stress and anxiety for the parents, and for the baby, it is obviously incredibly stressful to suffer and be in pain, perhaps unable to release gas or have a bowel movement, and unable to settle.

Expert Tips: Managing Colic Effectively

It is difficult to know exactly what causes colic, but parents' intuition about the baby's needs often plays a significant role in understanding what the baby is trying to communicate. Research shows that some babies with colic are later diagnosed with, for example, migraines, indicating possible long-term connections. Problems such as a tight frenulum or an inadequately developed gut flora can also contribute. Newborns lack gut flora before birth, but colonization of the gut begins immediately at birth, and the gut flora is not fully developed until the child is three years old. An intolerance to cow's milk protein is another possible cause, which may require a transition to a milk-free diet for a period, regardless of whether the baby is breastfed or formula-fed.

By deepening our understanding of colic and the challenges it entails, parents can be better equipped to handle this difficult condition. Consulting pediatricians and joining support groups can provide invaluable resources for navigating these demanding times.

Annika Jerkfelt

Verified by Annika Jerkfelt

Specialist trained District Nurse


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