Overview of Colic

Colic, also called infantile colic, is characterized by excessive crying, irritability, and fussiness in babies who are otherwise healthy. Although most infants display some degree of colic, the condition generally is defined as inconsolable crying without a physical cause (e.g., medical condition, hunger), for more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days per week, and for 3 weeks or longer. This definition is referred to as "the rule of threes."

In most cases, infantile colic develops at about 2–4 weeks of age and gradually improves by about 3–4 months old. Periods of inconsolable crying usually occur at about the same time each day, often in the evening. It is important for parents and caregivers to know that, although caring for a colicky baby can be extremely stressful and exhausting, the condition does not result in medical problems.

Colic is a common cause for distress in infants younger than 4 months of age. However, medical conditions (some of which can be serious), such as infections, injuries, gastrointestinal problems, and central nervous system disorders, also can cause inconsolable crying and must be ruled out before a diagnosis of colic can be made. Parents who have concerns about any aspect of their infant's behavior should discuss these concerns with their pediatrician.

Incidence and Prevalence of Colic

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), approximately 20 percent of infants develop colic, usually between the ages of 2 weeks and 4 months. Infantile colic occurs at about the same rate in both boys and girls, and in babies who are breastfed as well as those who are bottle-fed.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015