Colic: Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Tips

By: Sabrina Granniss, IBCLC


5 min

Parents get so much joy seeing their babies happy and content. It brings a smile to your face and reduces your stress. When your baby cries, you quickly try to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it. Are they hungry? Do they need their diaper changed? Do they need to burp? Are they sleepy? But what about the times when you go through your list of what they might need, and your baby is still crying, and nothing you do seems to help? 

Infantile colic is the main reason for up to 20% of all early visits made by parents and their babies to the pediatrician. (1) 

Parents whose baby may be experiencing colic usually explain to their doctor that their baby is crying for several hours and can’t seem to be soothed. The crying episodes may happen at any time; however, most parents report the crying occurs in the early evening hours.

The diagnosis of colic is based on excluding other specific illnesses or reasons for your baby’s crying. It is described as a vague diagnosis and doesn’t pinpoint the root cause, making it hard to have a clear treatment plan to remedy the colic. The pediatrician will do an evaluation to make sure the baby doesn't have an infection or injury like a fracture. They check fingers and toes to make sure there is no hair wrapped around one, creating a tourniquet, which can be painful. Colic becomes the diagnosis when no other apparent cause or explanation for the baby’s crying episodes can be found.

Doctors use the “rule of 3” for concluding a diagnosis of colic (2)

  1. Your baby cries for at least 3 hours per day
  2. The crying episodes happen more than 3 times per week
  3. This has continued for 3 weeks or longer, and the baby is well-fed and otherwise healthy

Symptoms you may observe in your baby

  • Crying in the evening hours
  • Clear start and stop of the crying with no known reason why they are crying
  • Baby pulls their legs into their belly
  • High-pitched screaming/crying
  • Baby’s face appears flushed
  • Increased gas or burping from swallowing air while crying

Colic affects both boys and girls. Both formula-fed and breast milk-fed babies can have colic. Colic begins around 2 weeks of age, peaks at 6 weeks of age, and seems to resolve by 6 months, rarely lasting until 12 months. (3) 

 It is reported to affect between 10-40% of all babies. (3) 

What causes colic?

Although periods of inconsolable crying and fussiness with no apparent cause have been mentioned throughout history and in most cultures, it was not until 1954 that it was first formally recognized and written about. (4) Different cultures have passed down the lore of what causes colic and various remedies to treat it. 

Most explanations to parents about infant colic are it is just one extreme along the normal range of crying. There is research that points to gut health and infant migraine as the strongest potential explanations of a cause for infinite colic. Taking a deeper dive into studies conducted supports the idea of looking at the body as a whole rather than just the symptoms being presented as a way to get to the root of what may be causing your baby’s colic.

Gut health

The research:

In a study with babies who had colic and babies in a control group without colic symptoms, there were differences found in gut bacteria. Stool samples of infants were tested for over 1,000 different types of bacteria. Less bifidobacteria was found in the samples of babies who had colic and more bacteria from the proteobacteria group of bacteria. Bifidobacteria is one of the primary colonizers in the infant's gut, helping form the baby’s immune system and fight inflammation. Proteobacteria can produce more gas, which could be a reason for babies experiencing colic, which seems to be accompanied by painful gas or infrequent bowel movements. The researchers also found that babies with colic took longer for their guts to colonize with the “good” bacteria. (5)

What you can do:

There is strong evidence for using probiotics for babies whose symptoms seem to fit the picture of gut health being the root cause of their colic. In particular, the strain lactobacillus reuteri was found to reduce the amount of time the baby as a result of colic. (6) Dietary changes need to be made by the mom as well to improve gut function, which will impact her milk and the baby's gut health. (7) Take a probiotic designed to support breast and gut health that gets passed on to the baby. Removing foods that cause sensitivity to the mom and infant and adding in nutritionally dense foods is an excellent first step.

Legendairy Milk’s lactation supplement, Lacta-Biotic, is a probiotic supplement from Legendairy Milk that may reduce pain and conditions caused by breast dysbiosis. Lacta-Biotic contains a strain of probiotics called Lactobacillus fermentum CECT5716. This strain is found in human breast milk and offers protection by promoting overall breast health for the mom and a healthy immune system for the baby. Lacta-Biotic can be taken during late-term pregnancy and all stages of life.

Infant migraine

The research:

Babies are 2.5 times more likely to have colic if their mothers suffered from migraines compared to mothers who did not. If the father had migraines, your baby is 2 times more likely to have colic. (8) Older children who experience migraines were more likely to have had colic when they were babies. Migraines are more common in people with GI symptoms like constipation and reflux. People with celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome experience migraines more often than people who do not experience GI disorders. (9)

What you can do:

When migraine is suspected as the root cause of your baby’s colic, it can be helpful to dim the lights, keep noise to a minimum, and reduce possible overstimulation during times of crying. Gentle rocking can help relax and regulate the nervous system, but more vigorous movement may aggregate symptoms. Because migraine is sometimes associated with GI symptoms, addressing gut health may be key to headache help and colic.

Other ways to help your baby with colic

The treatment for colic given by many practitioners is often a wait-it-out approach. It can be very stressful for you and your baby. Adopt ways to reduce stress and have some tools in your toolbox to help in the moment.

  • Learn infant massage - it is relaxing for you and your baby. Specific strokes can help relieve gas and constipation. 
  • Manual therapy, like chiropractic care, has been shown to reduce symptoms of colic. Gentle pediatric chiropractic manipulation helps balance structural tension and asymmetry, which allows the whole body to work better. (10)
  • Bathtime - take a warm Epsom salt bath with your baby. Magnesium helps reduce inflammation and is relaxing, reducing stress and tension.
  • Homeopathic Carbo Vegetabilis for quick relief of gas and bloating
  • Hum to your baby - soft humming can be soothing to your baby and help keep your stress hormones from taking over.
  • Babywearing - babies who are carried and held more cry less. (11)

What to remember

Colic doesn’t last forever. If you need help coping, reach out so you can get help reducing the stress you are experiencing. It is important to talk with your IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) and healthcare team about your baby's symptoms so you can work together to implement strategies to soothe your baby and address underlying issues, improving your baby’s overall health now and for the future. 


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