Crying Or Colic?

There’s no doubt about it: Dealing with a crying infant is simply part of being a parent. But what about infants who simply cannot be consoled? Nonstop crying can be incredibly overwhelming for a new parent. But is it just crying? Or is the dreaded “colic“? And is there any way to stop it?

Identifying Colic

By standard definition, a baby who cries more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week, consistently for longer than 3 weeks (and is otherwise healthy) is considered to have colic. Studies show that colic affects FROM 10-15% of all babies (and about 50% of crying infants fuss for over 1 hour a day). While certain aspects of colic, from cause to cure, remain unknown or misunderstood, here’s what we do know:

  • Infants with colic usually begin displaying symptoms approximately 2 weeks after being born.
  • After the first 3 or 4 months of life, colic generally goes away.
  • Gender and feeding style (bottle vs. breast) do not increase a baby’s chances of getting colic.
  • The presence of colic in a baby does not indicate that the child will be less intelligent or less healthy that a baby without colic.

Colic Causes

For most scientific researchers, colic has been a rather confounding subject. Many factors may lead to the irritation that comes with colic, but no specific “cause” can really be identified.

Some often-cited (though incorrect) causes of colic are:

  • Lactose intolerance (and the digestive trouble that ensues)
  • Gas
  • Overstimulation
  • Heartburn

Another theory about colic is that it is caused by a baby sensing her parents’ anxiety. That is also completely false. Babies aren’t little psychologists. They can’t tell if a parent is anxious, irritated, or fearful. In fact, if colic were caused by anxiety, premature babies should have a high level of colic, because their parents are usually extra-stressed. But, premature babies have no more colic than full-term babies.

Tackling the Colic Issue

The first approach to calm a baby with colic is to master the “5 S’s” (popularized in the DVD/Book The Happiest Baby on the Block). When done correctly, these simple techniques usually calm colic crying in minutes, or less. If the “5 S’s” fail to soothe a baby’s colic, it is important to review the DVD to make sure the techniques are being done correctly. Approximately 95% of the time the “5 S’s” fail, it is because they are not being implemented correctly. Kids with colic are usually totally healthy. However, if the colic persists in spite of these time-honored techniques, it is very important to consult a doctor to make sure there is no illness triggering the colic. Especially if the infant crying is associated with other symptoms like poor weight gain, fever, etc.

The most common problems associated with colic are milk protein allergy and various types of infections (urine, ear, etc.). One of the most frequently-diagnosed problems said to cause colic is acid reflux (GERD).

However, mounting evidence indicates that GERD is hugely over-diagnosed. A baby with colic who is growing well and vomits fewer than 5 times a day rarely, if ever, has GERD.

If your physician determines that your infant does indeed suffer from an illness that is causing colic, you can work together on a set of specific steps and behaviors to help soothe him.

NOTE: It’s important to consult your doctor before giving ANY sort of medicine to your baby. For example, gas drops made of simethicone have been shown to be no more effective than water to improve a baby’s colic.

If you’ve reached your emotional limit and the “5 S’S” are not helping your baby’s colic, call a friend or relative for a little help and take a break. You never want to allow yourself – or anyone else – to get so frustrated that you shake your baby. That type of rough handling can cause severe brain damage or even death.


15 Responses to “Crying Or Colic?”

  1. Amy Says:


    My baby cries about 5 hours per day, non-stop, but it gets this crazy only once per week. I cant explain it and my doctor cant explain it. We think it is not colic, but that something else is wrong with her. Does my baby have colic if it cries 5 times horus per day, non stop, but not every day – only once per week

    Also, what about all these colic remedies we see advertised on Google. For example

    50 Colic Remedies
    Make baby feel better.
    Buy remedies like gripe water, CDs

    Colic-Ease Gripe Water
    Pediatricians choice for colic, gas
    No Alcohol. No Sodium. No Charcoal.

    Natural colic relief
    Help your baby sleep in seconds
    with this CD Thousands sold.

    How do we know which Colic solutions we should trust

  2. Carlos Says:

    My son was colic and we were really concerned that when he grows up that he will be more fragile then other kids. He is 5 years old now and the fact he was colic has not affected his health at toddler age it appears. I must admit that there is a lot of confusing information out there about colic and one has to do good research to find out what is colic, what causes colic and how to cope with it.

  3. Leopoldo Says:

    Colic or not colic and just crying is very hard to assess. I like the direction where this article is taking us. We are trying some of these methods and it looks like baby is receiving them pretty well. I will keep you guys updated on the progress.

  4. Sheryl Says:

    Funny but true – my sons name is Colin and when he was an infant everyone joked that we should just change the last letter of his name to a C because his nonstop crying was clearly colic. He cried around the clock some days and it was really awful – but now that he is a happy and well-adjusted 2-year old those crying/colic days seem like a forgotten dream, and Colin can keep the N at the end of his name

  5. brenda Says:

    AMY – you should definitely try white noise. Harvey Karp made an amazing CD of white noise that you can get with his book and dvd the happiest baby. It is incredible My daughter Liza could really cry and cry and cry and we realized it was colic – we used his techniques and it was like night and day and the cd was a huge part of that.

  6. Dr. Briggs Says:

    Yes – white noise can be real lifesaver and sleep improver for any family, especially people dealing with crying babies and even colic. I even use a white noise cd sometimes myself

  7. Angela Says:

    All I will say is I got the Happiest Baby dvd, and Harvey Karp is MY HERO Our son Frankie was OUT OF CONTROL crying – we started to wonder if we were doing something wrong. When he cried it seemed like he was in pain and it wasnt until we tried the dvd that we realized it was colic and that there were solutions that would work. His crying was cut in HALF. And yes a white noise cd is a great tool too

  8. Mitch Says:

    It also helpful to keep your baby near your heart. This would really make him more comfortable since the sound is familiar to him. These are just one of the a hrefhttp// remedies for colic/a. Thanks for this useful article and good luck.

  9. cindyINla Says:

    We were using gas drops to help with the constant crying as mentioned in the article but they didnt work – then we realized it was colic. The only thing that worked was swaddling but the key to swaddling is doing it RIGHT I thought it was simply wrapping him up in a blankie. But when I learned to swaddle correctly even my 6-week-old with colic was able to be soothed and the crying would taper off. It was amazing.

  10. Malfa Says:

    No gas drops are no good Its all about the shhing and the swaddling and all those other Ss when it comes to dealing with colic. That crying can be really painful to hear and starts to make you feel nuts.

  11. Jonathan Says:

    My baby cries on a daily basis, probably anywhere from 6 to 12 hours in the day. I’ve tried everything from gripe water, messages, herbal tea’s, gas drops, but nothing seems to work not even Dr. Karp’s methods sometimes there is no cure for a colic baby.

  12. Bob Says:

    A lot of posts saying gas drops don’t work – they do, IF your baby has gas. If your baby has severe gas pains, no amount of swaddling and shushing is going to relieve that pain. For THAT baby, gas drops are the correct short term remedy (and the longer term remedy is to identify and eliminate the cause of the gas).

  13. Dr_Karp Says:

    two respected studies show they work as well as…drops of water.

  14. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Marilyn,

    Great question. We are finding children with congenital hydronephrosis on obstetrical ultrasound. And usually it is totally asymptomatic and resolves spontaneously. As far as I am aware, it has not been associated with colic. Dr. Karp

  15. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Lette, Sorry it has been a struggle for you. I don”t know how old your child is, but when parents tell me the 5 S’s are not working 90% of the time it is because they are not being done exactly right. Unfortunately, the techniques can be a little tricky (that’s why we made a DVD …it is easier to learn the 5 S’s by watching someone else do them). Swaddling is key to success…unwrapped babies tend to fuss longer and wake more often….and they then need strong white noise (when he is crying…play it as loud as a hair drier! then as he calms play it as loud as a shower)….and finally some need to sleep – fully wrapped – in the swing all night (as I describe in my new sleep book). And if you are sure you are doing everything right and they are STILL not working, you should have your child checked by his doctor.

Post a Comment

Fields marked with (*) are required

"Dedicated to the generous hearts of all parents and to our sweet children who enter the world with such trust."

Copyright © Dr.Karp 2010. Powered by Attention Interactive, Inc.