Coping with Colic

Category: Newborns

Nothing seems to work… Your little one keeps crying incessantly no matter what you do. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with colic.


You have swaddled him, checked for poopy diapers, fed him his milk, crooned all the lullabies that you know, rocked him for hours but nothing seems to work. Your little one is still crying uncontrollably. Could it be the dreaded ‘C’ word that all parents fear so much? Dealing with a colicky infant can be the most frustrating, tiring and anxious part of parenthood. Once the joy and amazement at the arrival of your little one have worn off, it is replaced by sleepless nights, panic when baby refuses to stop crying and fear that you might be doing something wrong. Don’t worry, because you are definitely not alone in this.

Colic is rather common amongst babies and knowing more about it and its symptoms can help you deal with your crying, fussy baby.

What is Colic?
Colic is neither a disease nor a diagnosis. Dr Mary Varughese, associate consultant, division of General Ambulatory Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the National University Hospital explains, “Colic refers to periods of uncontrollable crying and fussing without any identifiable need, in an otherwise healthy infant between the ages of two weeks and four months.”

Causes of Colic
Dr Low Kah Tzay, paediatrician, Mount Elizabeth Hospital says, “The exact cause of colic is unknown. There are different explanations such as the immaturity of the developing digestive system, bacterial colonisation, milk intolerance and even a build-up of air in the abdomen.”

Signs and Symptoms of Colic  
Here’s how you can check your baby for signs and symptoms of colic. Dr Wendy Sinnathamby, specialist in paediatric medicine and consultant, Raffles Children’s Centre, Raffles Hospital teaches you how to spot the signs.

  • Intense crying bouts usually in the late afternoon or evening that lasts for several hours
  • Crying occurs around the same time every day
  • Baby draws legs up whilst crying, goes red in the face, clenches his fists and may arch his back
  • Crying episodes may begin suddenly for no apparent reason
  • Baby may appear to be in distress during these episodes and may pass excessive wind
  • Baby continues to feed and gain weight normally despite these episodes
  • Baby won’t settle down to feed or sleep, no matter what you do

How Long Does Colic Typically Last?
Dr Varughese says, “Colic typically begins at about two weeks of age, peaks at six weeks and often resolves itself by four months of age.” Dr Low adds, “For some babies, the symptoms resolve after a few weeks. For others, it may resolve only after a few months. If there is no improvement at all, you should bring your baby to the paediatrician for another assessment to rule out other causes of distress.”

To the Doctors
It is advisable to bring the baby to see a paediatrician when the symptoms first appear. Dr Low says, “This is because it is important to rule out other conditions such as milk hypersensitivity, gastroesophageal reflux, intestinal obstructions or hernias.” Dr Varughese also cautions, “Excessive crying in a young infant may be a sign of an underlying illness, especially if it is accompanied by fever, vomiting, poor weight gain and breathing difficulties. The presence of blood in the stools, diarrhoea and eczema may indicate milk intolerance which requires evaluation. If you have any concerns that your baby is not well, it is best to bring him to your paediatrician for a physical examination.”

Treating Colic
Dr Sinnathamby says, “So far, there is no specific treatment for colic.” However, there are still some things that parents can do to help ease the symptoms of colic. Dr Varughese adds, “Medications such as colic drops may be helpful in decreasing swallowed air during bouts of crying. Mothers who are breastfeeding should continue to do so. Eliminating milk products, eggs, wheat and nuts in the diet of breastfeeding mothers may help to relieve symptoms of colic in some babies. Hypoallergenic milk formulas may also be used in infants with suspected cow’s milk intolerance. Otherwise, most infants can remain on their original formulas.”

So parents, take a deep breath if you feel like the end of your rope because this too, shall pass. It can get overwhelming at times so don’t hesitate to ask for help—from friends, family, grandparents or even a babysitter. Dr Varughese encourages all parents, she says, “The stress of dealing with a colicky baby can have a negative impact on your relationship with your spouse and other family members. Parents should make an extra effort to maintain a healthy relationship with each other and provide mutual support. Getting additional help from grandparents and relatives are invaluable in preventing fatigue and anxiety as well.”

Thanks for sharing!