Infant colic Symptoms and Treatment

The Infant colic is characterized by episodes of crying or shouting to calm difficult or inconsolable that occur in healthy babies from 4 months of age.

These crying crises occur most often at the end of the day or in the evening, without a clear medical cause can be identified. Crying starts and stops for no apparent reason.

In fact, “colics” do not meet a very precise medical definition, since we do not know the exact causes. Physicians generally consider it to be colic, or excessive crying , when the infant is doing well, growing normally, but crying:

  • more than three hours a day,
  • more than three times a week,
  • for more than three weeks.

This definition corresponds to Wessel’s “rule of 3”.

However, as the medical definition of colic is not very precise and crying does not last for three hours a day, parents, often worried, tend to quickly consult a pediatrician to make a diagnosis.

Who is affected?

It is estimated that about 25 to 40% of infants under 4 months of age have colic, whether breastfed or bottle-fed.

Colic usually starts around the age of 3 weeks, to be more intense to the 8 th   week and fade naturally around the age of 3 months.

The excessive crying of the infant is, with the problems of sleep, the first cause of medical consultation in the babies of less than 3 months.

Causes of the Infant colic

Despite many years of research into excessive crying in infants, the causes of colic are not known. There is no organic cause (disease, lesion, etc.) and infants with colic grow and develop well.

It must be known that there is no clear consensus as to whether these intense crying are abnormal or whether they are the normal, more or less intense expression of infant development.

Theories about the cause of colics are many and varied. The biological and psychological immaturity of the baby is often put forward.

Traditionally, these crises are attributed in turn:

  • To the immaturity of the digestive system causing gastrointestinal pain and gas,
  • At night’s anguish,
  • If need be,
  • To an excess of sensory stimulation,
  • If necessary to evacuate the tensions of the day,
  • To the anxiety of the mother.

Several recent studies point to the potential role of an intolerance or allergy to bovine proteins , which would irritate the child’s digestive system or alter its flora. It is true that during colic attacks, babies give the impression of having a stomach ache, having gas and being relieved when they are lying on their stomach, resting on the forearm from the parent.

Bovine proteins are present in formula milk powder, but also in breast milk when the mother consumes dairy products or beef.

Evolution and possible complications

Infant colic is benign and transient. They fade naturally around the age of 3 or 4 months and at most at the age of 6 months, without any specific treatment.

However, do not hesitate to ask for help because they can be an important source of stress within families or even parental distress. In extreme cases, they can seriously disrupt the child-parent relationship and lead to maternal depression and even abuse of gestures.


An infant who cries a lot is not necessarily suffering from colic. Better to seek medical advice to eliminate any serious cause that may explain these tears. Thus, diseases such as gastroesophageal reflux, inguinal hernia, ear infections, lactose intolerance or severe constipation can generate excessive crying in infants.

Infant colic is characterized by:

  • intense, high-pitched cries, different from hunger crying, usually occurring at the end of the day, but can also occur at other times of the day or night.
  • physical agitation with clenched fists, red face, bent legs on stomach and agitated, arched back, hard and seemingly sensitive belly.
  • possibly gases.

These seizures, which occur in a healthy and growing baby , can last anywhere from a few minutes to 3 hours or more. Crying seems inconsolable, even if the baby is sometimes relieved when he is caught in the arms, lying on his stomach, cradled or walked.

Colic can appear as early as the second or third week of life. They usually reach a higher intensity around 6 or 8 weeks, then gradually decrease.

At 3 months, 60% of colics are resolved. At 4 months, they disappeared in 90% of cases.

People at risk

Colic only affects infants under 4 months of age, and affects both boys and girls.

 Risk factors

Although we do not know exactly what causes colic, some factors seem to increase the risk (but the link is not always clearly proven):

  • the mother’s smoking during pregnancy and after
  • the age of the mother between 30 and 34 years
  • the fact that it is a first child
  • in case of breastfeeding, the fact that the mother has a strong ejection reflex (jets of milk) can cause digestive discomfort by increasing the level of lactose ingested, which is difficult to digest.


Can we prevent?
It is not possible to prevent colic, since we do not know the causes. It is of course recommended to the mother and the father to smoke, neither during the pregnancy nor after.

However, it is possible to adopt simple measures to live these painful moments as best as possible and avoid aggravating the situation:

  • avoid distress and stress to the baby, try to “let go” during crying, and calmly wait for it to pass.
  • Avoid multiple medical examinations, since colic is benign and no treatment is really effective.
  • If the baby is bottle-fed, it is not advisable to change milk constantly to find a suitable one: this can sometimes aggravate the digestive discomfort.
  • Do not carry yourself a diagnosis of food allergy if no allergy has been diagnosed by the doctor.

As painful as they are, there is unfortunately no miracle cure for colic. As this disorder is poorly defined, there are no international recommendations to guide care.

No drug has also given formal evidence of its effectiveness, and certain medications such as simethicone or dicyclomine, once used, are not recommended because of their side effects.

“Treatment” is based on the parents’ patience and some measures to relieve the child and parents.

To reassure oneself as parents

More than the child, it is the parents who suffer from colic. These affect the quality of life, generating significant anxiety in the delicate period that are the first weeks after childbirth. If they occur at night, they can also affect sleep. They can increase the risk of postpartum depression and alter the relationship between the parents and the child.

The first advice to apply is to reassure yourself as a parent, because it is easy to believe “bad”, unable to calm his child, or even feel guilty because we cannot stand these screams.

Keep in mind that colic is a mild, temporary and frequent disorder . And that they are, by definition, difficult or impossible to console! Parents’ anxiety can only aggravate the discomfort of the baby, who will feel less secure in the arms of a stressed parent.


Feeling overwhelmed or exasperated by the crying of your baby can happen anytime and to anyone. If the cries are too difficult to bear, you must know how to ask for help, to take care of respite beaches. If you are alone at home and you feel helpless, some organizations can provide support over the phone. Finally, it is better to put your baby in bed, safe, close the door of his room and isolate himself quiet for a few moments rather than lose patience and risk a violent act towards him.

Calm the child

During crying, the child needs to be comforted if he cannot be comforted. The fact of isolating him in a quiet room without much light or noise, can help calm down.

Every parent can also find what calms their baby. Depending on the case, it can be effective to rock, sing, whisper in his ear, and give him a bath, walk (stroller, car, baby carrier). But what works one night might be ineffective the next day!

It is recognized that:

  • rhythmic movements are sometimes effective
  • sucking (with a finger, a pacifier or the breast) also has soothing virtues and can sometimes stop crying
  • the sound “Shhhhh” can reassure babies and calm them.

Follow a hypoallergenic diet

In recent years, several studies and literature reviews have shown the effectiveness of certain dietary “strategies” to reduce colic intensity. Although the results are inconsistent from one child to another and that the studies concern only a small number of babies, it may be worth trying.

  • Thus, in formula-fed infants, it may be effective to substitute conventional cow’s milk preparations with whey or casein hydrolyzate, on medical advice.
  • When the baby is breastfed, the mother can follow a diet without cow’s milk and without its derivatives (no butter, no cheese, no cream, etc.). Several studies have shown that a non-allergenic diet can reduce colic.

However, it seems that diets that exclude only bovine protein are less effective than very strict hypoallergenic diets, also excluding nuts, soya, eggs, fish, wheat and peanuts. This at least suggests that a 2005 study of 107 infants. However, such a diet is extremely restrictive and the mother must benefit from a calcium supplement and a nutritional follow-up so as not to be deficient.


It is necessary to wait 7 to 10 days before seeing the possible effectiveness of such a regime. If there is no change, it is useless to continue.

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