Colic Signs and Symptoms

Colicky babies cry inconsolably, usually around the same time every day. Intense, high-pitched crying often begins suddenly in the late afternoon or evening and continues for hours until the baby and caregivers are exhausted. Colic is unrelated to environmental factors (e.g., temperature, comfort) or hunger. Infants who have colic are extremely difficult (or impossible) to soothe.

Infants who have colic appear to experience abdominal pain. In many cases, the infant's abdomen is distended (swollen) and he or she draws up the legs, clenches the hands, and becomes flushed in the face (i.e., red and overheated).

During a colic episode, a cycle in created: intense crying causes the baby to swallow air (called aerophagia), which results in distention (swelling) and pain in the digestive tract. This pain results in more crying, which then causes the infant to swallow more air. Colicky infants often pass gas or have a bowel movement toward the end of the colic episode.

Most babies outgrow colic by around 4 months of age. Complications associated with infantile colic are related to parental stress and anxiety. Parents and caregivers should contact a qualified health care provider immediately if they are overwhelmed and feel that they might harm the baby.

Colicky babies grow and develop normally and they are not at increased risk for medical problems. However, any sudden change in an infant's behavior, crying pattern, temperament, or feeding and sleeping schedule may indicate a serious medical condition and should be reported to the baby's pediatrician. Parents should contact a health care provider immediately if increased crying is associated with other symptoms, such as fever, diarrhea, forceful vomiting, or blood in the stool.

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

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015