Colic: What helps and what doesn't
March 28th, 2011
10:16 AM ET

Colic: What helps and what doesn't

As the parent of any newborn will tell you, there are few things worse than a baby with colic.  While she cries inconsolably, Mom and Dad try everything to soothe their little bundle of joy, often frantically searching the internet or calling friends and grandparents asking for advice.  Now a new study may offer some insight regarding what works and what's a waste of time.

According to the Mayo Clinic, colic is defined as crying more than three hours a day, three days a week for more than three weeks in an otherwise well-fed, healthy baby.  About 25 percent of babies get it.  Researchers aren't sure why.  It may have something to do with allergies, lactose intolerance, an immature digestive system or even maternal anxiety.  Infants of mothers who smoke during or after pregnancy are more likely to develop colic.

The study, which appears in the April 2011 issue of Pediatrics looked at randomized clinical trials of nutritional supplements and other complementary and alternative treatments for colic.  Researchers found "some encouraging results"  when parents used fennel extract, herbal teas, such as chamomile, licorice, fennel and balm mint and sugar-water to treat babies with colic.  Researchers also looked at probiotic supplements, massage and reflexology.  However, the study authors found those therapies did not "significantly" reduce the symptoms of colic.  They also stress that further research is needed.

If you are one of those blurry-eyed parents desperate for relief, take comfort. Colic usually improves on its own within three months.  Experts say you should contact your pediatrician if you notice changes in eating, sleeping or behavior.

soundoff (264 Responses)
  1. cindy

    My daughter had terrible colic. Her pediatrician called it true colic, not the whiny sutff kids get when they have stomach troubles. If she was awake, she cried, for 4.5 months. Just incessant inconsolable crying for no discernable reason. It had nothing to do with her digestion. And, it is insulting to imply it could be the mother's fault. That is a disgusting thing to say, akin to when they used to blame the mother for autism. I'll tell you more about colic. It comes on in a wave, peaks, and then declines. The crying bouts will get longer and closer together, peak, and then subside the same way they came on. It usually peaks around 12 weeks, but children aren't born with a calendar. Also, some children respond to noises. My child would become quiet for about 2 hours if we ran the vacuum cleaner. It had to be in the same room with her, it only worked once a day, and it would last about 2 hours. Also, if I wore her, I could buy an hour from her. So, I would wear her through the grocery store and by the time we were at the cash register, she was done and starting to cry again. Do not give your children herbs as mentioned in this article without careful review from your pediatrician. That can be extremely dangerous. Also, with real colic, none of that does any good anyway. It might help with digestive issues if your child has that, but digestive issues are not true colic. They are digestive issues. Some researchers think true colic may be a disorder with the mylin sheath that surrounds the nerves. It doesn't fully develop until around 12 weeks old, so these children may be overstimulated.

    March 28, 2011 at 11:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Julie S

    My son was TERRIBLY colicky from 2 months until 9 months old. It was horrible – 24/7, not just evenings. The only thing we found that worked was chiropractic treatment. We didn't receive that recommendation until he was almost 9 months old, and by that time we were so desperate for relief for him and for us! We took our son to the chiropractor and the results were simply amazing! It was shocking because we didn't really think it would work – but it did! It never dawned on us that his neck & back could be the source of his colic due to his traumatic birth. Once we went through the process and it worked, then it all made sense! We were so thankful.

    March 28, 2011 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. cindy

    One other very important point. These children are abuseable children. Be very, very careful about who you allow to care for a child with true colic. An immature caregiver, or one not emotionally prepared to handle a child with true colic may be more likely to injure the baby.

    March 28, 2011 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LC

      Very good point to bring up!

      March 28, 2011 at 14:50 | Report abuse |
  4. Julie

    As a mother who had a daughter with terrible colic, I cannot stress enough the need for parents to ask for help! I know after the 6th or 7th straight hour of crying, it gets to be unbearably exhausting, and you just want to scream at the top of your lungs to make it stop. Get help. Ask a relative, a friend, a neighbor. Even if it's just for 10 minutes, take a break. It's nothing to be ashamed of, it's nothing that the parents have caused, and it's certainley not your childs fault! FYI white noise from a T.V. was my only saving grace. Worked wonders.

    March 28, 2011 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jill

      White noise from a TV was the only thing that soothed my colicy daughter as well. As strange as it sounds, it worked perfectly! I just wish we would've known to try it before we were already 2 months into her colic phase...

      March 28, 2011 at 15:01 | Report abuse |
  5. Debbie

    Cindy my daughter had colic and that was my biggest fear! She got better at around 4 months, when the crying would go on and on, I found walking her and singing helped (poor kid I can't sing) also if I layed her across my lap on her belly and gently bounced my legs she would calm. The dryer didn't work for me and car rides made her worse. It IS very difficult.

    March 28, 2011 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. James Ebron

    Babies hearing is supper sensitive . This causes most babies a lot of pain. Why? Think for a moment . If you were able too hear almosly every sound around you and didn't understand what it was; Would you not cry??! It's the ears.

    March 28, 2011 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. leslie

    i rarely reply to comments, but i think you are right on! we have a lovely 6 year old daughter who screamed for 3 months and cried for 3 more. 25 min cat naps. we used to bounce her in our laps as we bounced on our exercise ball. i agree it is probably under-development of the nervous system and they are simply overwhelmed by their new world. i know some families have had chiro help as well. our 6 year old is a joy-busy and a little demanding, but funny, friendly, loving and outgoing. hang in there, parents!!

    March 28, 2011 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Sandy

    It's not the noise level. Trust me on this. My daughter suffered from colic for about 4 months. She cried a lot all the time, but she had mega bouts about every other day. I will never forget the worst one - she started screaming (no whimpering here, just a full-throated howl) mid-afternoon, and she kept it up until daybreak the following day, despite walking and singing and begging. It was agony. If you've never had a baby with true colic you should thank God, it's just that awful.

    Nothing cured it, but walking helped. We also had a device that attached to the mattress and shook it like a car ride would, which helped a little bit. The biggest help in staying sane was her pediatrician's assurance that it was o.k. to just shut the door on the noise after checking to make sure she didn't need anything and trying to calm her for a reasonable period. Today she is 9 and is perfectly healthy (but still loud - boy, can she project).

    March 28, 2011 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Bessie

    My daughter had colic syptoms at 4 weeks old until she was about 3 months old. Every night 11pm – 2am. Nothing helped. I truly believe it is a sensory issue. All of a sudden they start hearing, seeing, and feeling all of these things that they don't understand. Like taking thier first air breath after only enhaling fluid invitro. Strange overpowering snesations that have to hurt & confuse them. My daughter is a fairy normal 2 3/4 yr old now. I say fairly because she is the size of a 4 year old and extremely smart!

    March 28, 2011 at 13:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. ed Bailey

    To the researchers that say there isn't any one cause for colic are either Stupid or just lie like the government and the medical world has since the early 60's when a difinitive cause for sids was discovered and promptly hushed up. Ask any parent who has gone through the agony of sids if they believe that their children had colic. All babies cry but I LIVED the TRUE NIGHTMARE AND THE DOCTORS AND THE GOVERNMENT KNOWS AND WIlL LIE FOREVER ABOUT IT!

    March 28, 2011 at 14:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveV

      Are you really claiming that there is a U. S. Government colic conspiracy? Was that a joke (I hope) ?? Our second child had an extremely bad case of colic for an entire year! I felt like we were going to completely lose our sanity. We couldn't leave our daughter with any baby sitter as none would be able to deal with 5 to 6 straight hours of non-stop crying! She would not take a nap and did not gain weight at a "normal" rate. Our doctor worked very closely with us and helped get through the ordeal without losing our minds, but we never found any explainable causes for the extreme discomfort that our daughter was experiencing. After a YEAR, it finally disappeared and our daughter experienced a sudden growth spurt when she could finally eat and digest normally. I don't believe there is any such conspiracy to hide the truth about colic! That is absurd!

      March 28, 2011 at 15:58 | Report abuse |
    • Rayne

      You know the cause of colic and SIDS, oh really? Then please tell us what it is and why only some babies suffer from it.
      Or maybe you just look at every opportunity to blame the government for something?

      March 29, 2011 at 04:51 | Report abuse |
  11. Aar

    My daughter had colic & reflux and it was the lowest time of my life. It is so hard on the parents- you just feel like your child hates you. We tried everything & absolutely nothing worked to help her but our pediatrician gave us wonderful advice. She said that we were in the position to help her become sweet & to change her disposition. She told us to always be positive & happy toward her. It was incredibly hard to do that when we wanted to just put her in her crib, shut the door, & leave the house, but we did it with our doctor's help. And now our daughter is the sweetest, kindest, easiest toddler in the world. Our doctor told us it was our patience & never-ending love toward her that made the difference. That's really all the advice I can offer to those going through it ... but I won't lie, I still feel robbed of the normal newborn experience & mourn that.

    March 28, 2011 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. JM

    Wow, all of these comments are really interesting. I'm sorry everyone went through this difficult time. Thank you for sharing your experience with the rest of us.

    March 28, 2011 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Mary

    Chamomile tea. My mother gave it to all five of us when we were babies and none of us ever had colic.

    March 28, 2011 at 14:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MIke

      Mary- the reason you and your siblings didn't have colic is because you didn't have colic. It had nothing to do with the tea. One of the worst aspects of colic is the stupid, no-nothing suggestions you get from friends and even doctors who have no experience with colic.

      March 28, 2011 at 16:44 | Report abuse |
    • TS

      I have found that the only people who can really understand what it is like to have a collicy baby, are those that have been through it. I mean no offense when I say that we got ALL KINDS of advice like this from people who said they "did this" and their chid did not cry. I was always biting my lip – "don't you think we have already tried that?"? IT DOES NOT WORK – nobody understood. How many times did people tell us to just put her on the dryer or drive her around in the car?

      She is now 7 months old, the colic broke at around 3.5 months. It DOES get better – she is a wonderful, happy little girl now. I will say, Happiest Baby on the Block really cut down the screaming for us though – would have been much more difficult without it. I do not look back on those days fondly.

      March 29, 2011 at 13:24 | Report abuse |
  14. Mom to 3

    My daughter had colic. She would cry for hours. I thought we would never get past that first 6 months of life. Now she is 17 and still cries. We just say that complaining out loud is part of her personality.

    March 28, 2011 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Bob

    Our daughter had colic. The only thing that helped was a home-made tape recording that we made – 2 hours of the vaccuum running on one side and 2 hours of a hair dryer running on the other! Thank God for that tape – it got us through it.

    March 28, 2011 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. jr

    My daughter (now 19) had teriible colic for months. We tried all sorts of different techniques and formulas (finally carnation good start worked best) and used a running vacuum to soothe her, it worked wonders....

    March 28, 2011 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Susan

    My daughter had colic for at least 3 mths. (she's 20 now). It wasn't noise, she would cry non-stop from 5 PM till 10 or 11 PM, then would awake in the middle of the night and cry for 3 more hours. Nothing soothed her until a friend suggested that I stop ingesting all dairy products (her dr.'s idea). I was breast feeding. I have a degree in nutrition so it totally went against everything I had been taught regarding the importance of calcium for women who are breastfeeding, but I was desperate so I did it. I can honestly say that within a day or two, the colic was completely and permanently gone. Also, I suffered no side effects with my bones. I have always exercised, so that probably helped my bones. I did resume eating dairy products after a few months. I hope this helps someone out there because the colic can drive you crazy.

    March 28, 2011 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Lisa

    My daughter (now 23) had colic and her pediatrician, originally from Germany, prescribed Donatol Elixer drops for her. It smelled and tasted minty. It worked wonders. I do think there might be something with the fennel/mint treatment.

    March 28, 2011 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Clayton

    I had colic when I was a kid and my mom told me how bad it was. Glad I don't remember it! 😀 Now all I can do is cross my fingers and hope none of my future kids get it! 😀

    March 28, 2011 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Mary

    Our son had colic every night until I read Dr. Harvey Karp's book, "The Happiest Baby on the Block". It was truly miraculous the change in one day reading his 5 S's (Suck, Swaddle, Side, Swing,Shush) and the crying went from hours each night to 10-15 minutes. Please read this book, easy to do and start using immediately. He is a well respected pediatrician, not a snake oil salesman.

    March 28, 2011 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TS

      Ditto! I rcommend it. It did not "cure" it, but it made it easier. She would have screamed much, much more without the techniques used from this book.

      March 29, 2011 at 13:19 | Report abuse |
  21. Terri

    Turn on the vacuum cleaner, it worked great with my daughter or going for a ride in the car!

    March 28, 2011 at 18:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Amy Brandlin

    I think that I read somewhere that what could be the cause of colic is a lack of helpful bacteria in the baby's intestines. The baby's intestines are inflamed because of the lack of a good ecosystem–(health flora.) Yogurt can help.

    March 28, 2011 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Alex

    My daughter was diagnoses with Colic ... it was really silent reflux. Look into it. It took a maxium dose for her weight of Prilosec, every day, for over a year, but the child went from crying for no apparant reason sometimes for 20 hours in a row, to being a content is high maintinence child. Pediatric gastroenterologist was my life saver. She started at day 2 of life, by week 2 was horrible, and by 2 months, one night the pediatrician told me to put her in her crib (it was 2am) and go in the bathroom and run the shower so I couldn't hear anything for 20 minutes.

    If you have never experiences that level of screaming, don't pretend you know what it is like, because you don't. I don't even fully remeber it. My dovtor says that is a protective trait of the mind to black black that stuff out.

    March 28, 2011 at 19:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Laurie

    My friends and neighbors told me that my daughter had colic. Something in my gut told me it was something else. I took her to the pediatrician, and, sure enough, it was acid reflux. She took zantac twice a day for 6 months and it was a miracle! It stopped the "colic" within a couple of days. I'm curious about how many of these babies with colic, actually have acid reflux. The reason babies "grow out of it" in about 3 months is because that's about how long it takes for the valve in their stomach to mature to the point where their stomach acid doesn't splash onto their esophagus. Please, anyone with a colicky baby, see a pediatrician, it just might be acid reflux.

    March 28, 2011 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. AM

    My 9 year old, who I breastfed for 13 months, suffered from colic and projectile spit up, two weeks after being born. He would cry inconsolably until he would spit up, which was projectile, then he would be fine. That would happen 2-3 times a day. During his 2 month check up, I mentioned what was happening to him to his pediatrician, and he recommended I pumped the fore milk and let him have the hind milk, which he said was better for him anyway. I got home soon after and did just what the pediatrician recommended, and it worked. It helped him digest the milk better and my husband and I saw results within 2 days.

    March 29, 2011 at 00:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Amy Spadoni

    My daughter was also colic. It was seven months of hell. She was my third child had I known I may of only had two. As much as we wanted and needed a break there was no one I trusted. When you go through this at an extreme level it is hard to trust yourself when you hit the wall. I did not have family around or I am sure it would have been easier. I will admit, when people said their baby was colic...I really thought they were weak! lol! I guess deserved it! lol! Thank goodness seven months hit and she gained weight, and off the bat slept over 15 hours for the next six months. Just remember, it will get better. Your child is worth it.

    March 29, 2011 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. gimpymom

    My 14 son had colic and reflux as a baby. This sounds like a lot of others had similar issues. The constant crying, arching of the back, vomiting and eventually failure to thrive was my psychological downfall as a mother. If you have family to support you, take it. If not, I promise eventually it will end. The internet was not really around for me, take advantage of it now. I was told to stop breastfeeding at 3 months, and he was put on a formula that we found out eventually he was allergic too. Nightmare!! This led him to be NG tube fed until 18 months old. He learned at an early age, if I drink it I will spit it up. The Doctors were not correct about the natural instinct of hunger. He did not drink. I think my son was a rare exception. But, find a doctor that will listen to you, even if it is to just hear your complain. I think the motion thing, baby bijons (keeping him upright) slanting of the mattress helped somewhat. Music for you and the baby. Swaddling the baby constantly and pacifiers help too. Don't be afraid of the pacifier!!! If the child needs braces, he will need them regardless of the pacifier. That is the least of your worries. Pacifiers help reflux. Once they sit up it helps too. My son was sitting up on his own at 3 months, it did help. He walked early too, which I heard is common. I tried dozens of different medicines on the market. The one thing I look back on and regret so much to this day, is I didn't enjoy my baby more. All the worry, concern, distress and loss of sleep and "feeling punished feeling" and HELL will become a distant memory. Enjoy the baby, they really do grow up fast and then that time is a faded memory. Been there, done that. Good Luck!

    March 30, 2011 at 06:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Colleen

    All babies are individuals so there is no magic bullet on this one. But a warm towel on the belly and a dose of "gripe water" would usually buy us about 90 minutes of peace. Thankfully our son outgrew his colic after about three months. The "gripe water" is a mix of several of the herbs mentioned in the article, that you can buy at most pharmacies.
    Good luck.

    April 2, 2011 at 18:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Heather

    My son cried for 6 hours a day from the time he was brought home from the hospital until he was 4 month old. Two things helped. I would hold him facing outward and dance around gently bouncing him up and down and when he was 3 months I switched to soy formula which was easier for him to digest. One good thing, all that dancing helped me to lose my baby weight.

    April 9, 2011 at 03:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Jen

    Our daughter had colic until she was about 3.5 months old and I agree with just about everyone who has experienced it – there is no real explanation and given the fact that her twin brother did NOT have it, pinning it to maternal anxiety is crap. We did find that we could get some relief with one of those automated swings with the lights and sounds. It seemed to allow her to "zone out" and maybe shut out the outside world, and it got to the point where we would put her down for the night in the swing – I have wondered if the whole theory of the child being overstimulated has the most legs based on our experience. I have also wondered if there wasn't some undiagnosed acid reflux and the swing helped with that because it kept her propped up. We'll never really know. But what will work for colicky babies – if anything-differs from child to child because my swing recommendation to other parents of colicky children has been successful with mixed results. Its hard. Get help, call in the reinforcements to get you out of the house and remember that when it gets too much, safely placing baby in the crib and going outside to sit on the porch to gather your wits won't harm the baby.

    April 17, 2011 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
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  35. David L. Sharp, M.D.

    My two books (one for parents and one for professionals) on constipative colic are dedicated the the brave parents of colicky babies. The somewhat sad truth is that there is a cause and a cure for what I term "constipative colic." Obviously not all crying babies have this problem, but unless the baby's rectum is examined for an occlusion, you will not be able to exclude that problem from other potential causes of inconsolable infant crying. The great paradox is that the diagnosis and cure and the same maneuver, so it is scientifically very difficult (if not impossible) to prove with a double-blind study. The historical, embryological and practical experience all point to a definitive cause and cure. If you're tired of things not working, please check out our website: http://www.colic.us. For 33 years I did not have colic in my family medicine practice (I also delivered babies for 23 years).
    Thanks! I hope we can be of help to you and your baby.
    David L. Sharp, M.D.

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