Pearls of Wisdom: Colic

COLIC – a word that instantly triggers feelings of fear and despair all too familiar to new and experienced parents everywhere. “Colic,” as a defined term, pertains to a symptom complex characterized by bouts of abdominal pain and severe crying. It is a common phenomenon in infants under 3 months of age. Attacks, which could last for hours, come out of nowhere. During a bout of colic, some or all of the following will occur: a baby will cry loudly and continuously;  his face turns red, the abdomen is hard and distended; legs may be drawn up on the abdomen; feet feel cold, and the hands are clenched. Episodes may last until the baby is completely exhausted; usually there’s no relief even after passing gas or stool. During this time, babies are often inconsolable, so this can be agonizing for parents who also attend to so much more: other children; work; studies; aging parents; housework, and other long lists of things to do.

Recurrent attacks usually occur between 6 pm and midnight, suggesting that events in the household routine may contribute to occurrence. Certain infants appear to be more prone to colic. The cause is oftentimes not obvious, although hunger and swallowed air that passes into the intestines could trigger colic. Certain foods, such as those with a high carbohydrate content, can lead to excessive fermentation in the gut. There is no single factor that consistently causes colic, nor does any specific treatment consistently give relief.

Although colic episodes usually resolve on their own, there are a few things that could be helpful and worth trying:

  • Hold the baby upright or lay her prone across your lap or over a heating pad and gently rub her back. Putting gentle pressure on her belly may comfort her.
  • If mom is nursing, advise her to avoid milk products, caffeine, onions, cabbage and other gas-forming foods from her diet. For formula fed infants, switching to a protein hydrolysate formula could lessen the colic; this is something your pediatrician can help you decide.
  • Overfeeding could cause discomfort and abdominal distension. Try to wait at least 2 -3 hours between feedings and always remember to burp baby after feedings.
  • A pacifier could be introduced to help calm the baby. Every baby takes to the pacifier differently, and while breastfed babies may refuse it, it can provide relief to others.
  • Steady, rhythmic motion and calming sounds may help them fall asleep. You can try rocking her, running the vacuum or clothes dryer in the next room, a fan, air conditioner or any form of white noise.
  • Try swaddling her in a thin, cotton blanket. This usually makes babies feel secure and warm.
  • Take a break! Ask a family member or a trusted friend to stay with the baby even for a couple hours just so you can keep sane and relieve your tension and anxiety.

Preventing attacks may be achieved by changing feeding techniques, identifying allergenic foods in a nursing mom’s diet, and promoting a stable emotional environment. Know that there is light at the end of the dark tunnel, since most colic rarely persists after 3 months of age.

It’s best to pay your pediatrician a visit so she/he can thoroughly examine your baby to rule out any of the more serious conditions that could mimic colic. These include bowel obstruction, strangulated hernia, and blood or urine infections. If you feel you’ve reached a point of depression and are having a difficult time dealing with stress and emotions, seek help from your own physician. Remember, your baby takes her cue from you; hence, if you are smiling and laughing, he feels good and smiles back at you. Likewise, if you are overly stressed, sad or angry, these feeling are rubbed off on your baby. Whatever you do, please don’t be too hard on yourself. Even Supermoms have their limits!


All information contained in this blog and on our web site(s) should be independently verified by you by a medical professional of your own choosing and you should always conduct your own research and due diligence before making any decision related to the subject matter of this blog or our web site. 


Dr. Pearl


Dr. Pearl Cenon

A pediatrician in private practice in New Jersey for over 15 years, Dr. Cenon (we like to call her Dr. Pearl) also has two children of her own. Dr. Pearl’s husband, Kevin McDonough is also a pediatrician and they work together. She writes basic posts about topics that interest many parents, from skin care and nutrition to seasonal issues, such as allergies and colds. Her kind, approachable tone in each blog post will have you looking forward to the next one.