Symptoms of Colic in Babies

Signs of Baby Colic

It can be hard to know for sure if a baby has colic.  This is because there are no definite colic signs which are the same for every little person. Colic is generally given as the reason when no other obvious solution is found. It’s worth remembering that there are a range of behaviours which are universal in healthy, young babies who cry for no obvious reason. Always speak and check with a qualified nurse or healthcare professional to seek help and advice on how to manage your colicky babies.

    What Does a Colic Cry Sound Like?

    Colicky crying can also be rather distinctive. The crying tends to come in waves, as if the baby is experiencing pain which comes and goes. Sometimes crying during colic episodes sounds high pitched, almost as if the baby has been hurt. At other times, the crying is hard and incessant, with few pauses in-between to take a breath. Often in the late afternoon, a colicky baby may just seem miserable and cranky, their crying more of a continuous grizzle than a loud bellow.

    Typically, a baby experiencing colic goes very red in the face.  They also close their eyes and cry with all their effort. Their arms and legs stiffen and they seem to put their whole body into communicating their distress. They may also sporadically pull their legs up as if they are in pain. Understandably, this can be challenging to witness. Especially for parents who are trying to do all they can to soothe and comfort their baby.

    Many times, no matter what parents do, a baby with colic continues to cry and fuss.

    Here We Go Again...

    Crying due to colic can last for hours at a time. Typically crying starts in the late afternoon/evening and continues until around 8pm or even later. 

    Babies who experience colic tend to be at their happiest in the mornings, when they may seem just fine.  This makes it difficult for parents to understand exactly why the change in their baby’s behaviour in a few short hours.

    Oh, You’re OK Now!

    Colic crying is exhausting for most babies. As adults we know how draining it can feel to shed a few tears.  For a small baby the effort in crying, sometimes non-stop for a few hours each day must be particularly fatiguing.   It’s normal for parents to find themselves wondering how their baby gets so much energy to cry so hard.    

    Typically, after a few hours, babies with colic eventually relax and go off to sleep.  Some days they calm more easily and their crying episodes are not as drawn out. On other days, soothing sessions can almost seem like a marathon.

    Classic Signs of Colic

    Colic is defined by ‘the rule of threes’. Healthy babies who cry for three hours (or more) each day, for three days (or more) of the week, for three weeks (or more) are said to have colic.

    Physical Symptoms of Colic:

    • Going red in the face
    • Pulling up their legs as if they are in pain
    • Stiffening their body including their arms and legs
    • Grimacing their face and closing their eyes
    • Times of quiet calmness and then crying with gusto
    • Tummy grumbling and straining as if they want to poo
    • A distended tummy and passing wind   

    Other Reasons Why Young Babies Cry

    • Gastroesophageal reflux. Most newborns reflux due to the immaturity of their gut. Basically, the short distance between their mouth and stomach, combined with a relaxed sphincter at the stop of their stomach contribute to the likelihood of reflux.
    • An infection. A urinary tract infection or ear infection can cause intense crying.
    • A hernia – typically an inguinal or umbilical hernia.
    • Nervous system immaturity.
    • A nappy rash or other irritating skin condition.

    Why Is My Baby Crying?

    It’s normal for babies to cry. Some cry more than others, making them a little more challenging to care for than babies who are quieter. We cannot change a baby’s personality or their temperament. How a baby relates to the world is purely individual. They are too young to have learned how to communicate their distress. Crying is the only way in which babies can send a signal to the world that they are unhappy. Just as each baby is unique, so is their cry. The pitch and intensity of a baby’s cry is dependent on many factors. When babies are tired they tend to grizzle more, with pauses in-between as they respond to soothing. Hard intense crying, where the baby is not responding to usual comforting techniques, can be particularly difficult to listen to. Although there are many reasons for a baby to cry, our responses tend to be the same.

    • Check your baby’s nappy and change them if needed.
    • Consider when your baby last had a feed. Breastfed babies can demand more frequent feeds than babies who are formula fed.
    • Hold your baby so their head is up on your shoulder. Pat their back at about the same rate as your own heart rate. Focus on trying to stay calm.
    • Give your baby a deep, warm bath.
    • Rock, hold and swing your baby in a rhythmic and soothing way. Avoid sudden, fast movements which could stimulate them more.
    • Place your baby in their pram, a sling or a pouch and go for a walk.
    • Hold your baby across your lap so their tummy is against your legs. Sway your legs from side to side.
    • Put some soothing music on.
    • Ask another trusted adult to hold your baby. Sometimes babies respond to changes of caregivers, even for a short time.

    How Would I Know if My Baby Has Colic?

    You may not know with 100% certainty that your baby has colic. There are no medical tests or investigations which given a definitive diagnosis of colic.  It’s the baby’s behaviour which gives the biggest clue as to whether colic could be the cause for their distress.

    Is your baby:

    • Aged from birth to three months?
    • Happy, healthy and thriving?
    • Gaining weight and reaching their developmental milestones?
    • Feeding well and having plenty of wet and dirty nappies?
    • Generally happy in the mornings, but as the day proceeds becomes cranky and irritable?
    • Having crying episodes in the afternoons and evenings?
    • Not responding to all the usual strategies you try to soothe them?
    • Crying for a few hours at a time at around the same time each day?

    If you’ve answered yes to most of the questions above, it’s reasonable to assume your baby has colic. But first, check with your child health nurse or doctor who can see your baby and check them over. It’s important that other physical causes for your baby’s crying are ruled out.