What is Colic, and how does it effect my baby?

By Kate, 10th August 2018

I remember the challenge of being a new parent. It was overwhelming to say the least, but no one could have prepared me for a baby not sleeping because of colic.

So what is Colic?

Colic is when all your baby’s needs have been met. They are fed, dry nappy and should be content. However,  instead they are still screaming with fists clenched, knees drawn up tightly and a terrible grimace on their face. Gosh it’s tough to see your new little baby go through this.

Baby colic, also known as infantile colic, is defined as episodes of crying for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, for three weeks in an otherwise healthy child.

It often occurs in the evening creating problems with sleep. It typically does not result in long term problems, however the crying can cause frustration and exhaustion for the parents.

What are the symptoms?

  • High pitched crying
  • Unable to settle for sleep
  • Grimacing or frowning face
  • Red, flushed face
  • Clenched fists
  • Excessive gas
  • Knees drawn up to chest
  • Baby looks like they are in pain
  • Often worse in the afternoon or evening, effecting sleep (but can happen at any time)


There are other medical conditions that can cause excessive crying in infants, so it is important to see a doctor to rule out any other underlying medical condition, before assuming that your baby has colic. 


Conflicting advice? There’s a surprise!

When you are a tired parent of a baby who won’t sleep and all the information out there seems conflicting, its hard to know what to do. The internet is a minefield of worrying information and then your mum in law puts her two-pennies worth in too! Well, just to make things worse the experts also struggle to find the answer as to why it happens.

Some experts believe that colic is caused by a gastrointestinal issue and others believe it is caused by environmental factors such as overstimulation or the need for more advanced settling techniques.  As a result, different experts believe in different solutions and have a tendency to argue that they have the ‘right’ solution for colic.

There is lots of information around diet and different formulas to try, however nothing is conclusive and experts suggest treating conservatively. There is some tentative evidence that probiotics can be useful.


It will go away

If your baby has been crying for hours at a time and nothing you do seems to help, you are probably:

  • Feeling distressed
  • Worried
  • Confused by conflicting information about colic
  • Exhausted from the stress and the sleep deprivation
  • Worried that you’re doing something wrong
  • Concerned about the impact of the crying

So here’s some research-based information that might put your mind at ease:

  • Colic has been estimated to affect up to 40% of babies
  • It is not caused by parental anxiety or stress
  • Colic affects equal numbers of breast-fed and bottle-fed babies
  • It does not happen because your baby has a “difficult” personality
  • Most common at six weeks of age and typically goes away by six months of age
  • It occurs at the same rate in boys and in girls
  • And finally, it will get better!


You’re not alone with this and there is support out there. So please do see your health visitor or GP if you are concerned, or just needing to talk it through. If you need help with your child’s sleep then please do get in touch.



Johnson, JD; Cocker, K; Chang, E (1 October 2015). “Infantile Colic: Recognition and Treatment”. American Family Physician. 92 (7): 577–82. PMID 26447441. Archived from the original on 26 August 2017. Retrieved 22 July 2017.

Lucassen, P. L.; Assendelft, W. J.; Gubbels, J. W.; van Eijk, J. T.; van Geldrop, W. J.; Neven, A. K. (1998-05-23). “Effectiveness of treatments for infantile colic: systematic review”. BMJ (Clinical research ed.). 316 (7144): 1563–1569. doi:10.1136/bmj.316.7144.1563. ISSN 0959-8138. PMC 28556Freely accessible. PMID 9596593.

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