Family Health Guide

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Colic: Treatment

Most pediatricians will approach treatment the same way: attempt to diagnose underlying conditions that could be exacerbating the wailing. Non-medical treatment for some of the most common culprits includes:


To ease your baby’s acid reflux, first try feeding her half as much and twice as often. A smaller volume of food will empty from the stomach faster, leaving less for her to spit up. An infant's stomach is the size of his fist, so if you place your baby's fist next to a bottle filled with four ounces of liquid, you'll see why his tummy gets overwhelmed.

Regular burping throughout each feeding may also help. Strive to keep him upright and quiet for at least half an hour after feeding, as lying down can cause the milk to come back up more easily. Crying increases intro-abdominal pressure and aggravates abdominal pain, especially that caused by reflux, so the more you can soothe the cries, the better.

If you’re breastfeeding, keep it up for as long as you can. Babies don't swallow as much air when nursing (air can fill the belly and aggravate reflux), and breast milk empties from the stomach faster than formula, so there's less time for it to flow back into the esophagus. 

New research suggests that probiotics may also help balance an immature digestive system. One study found that colicky babies who took drops containing Lactobacillus – a “healthy” bacteria that can ease digestion -- for three weeks reduced their daily crying to an average of just 35 minutes. Talk to your doctor before trying this at home. 

Read about medication used to treat GERD.

Formula or milk allergy

Pediatricians generally recommend starting your formula-fed baby on a cow’s milk version, but it that doesn’t seem to suit her system, talk to your doctor about switching to a whey protein, soy protein, low-lactose or hypoallergenic version. Studies have estimated that 5 to 15 percent of babies may have a cow’s milk allergy, evidenced by symptoms like mucus, streaks of blood in stool, or a scaly rash.

You might also consider keeping a food diary.  If you're breastfeeding, examine your diet for foods that seem to be linked with fussy behavior in your infant. (It generally takes about 4 to 6 hours for the food you consume to reach your nursing baby, but this can vary by person, by the type of food, and how often you nurse.) Consider eliminating dairy products from your diet for a week to see if it makes a difference. One study found that moms who were put on a strict, low-allergen diet (no dairy, peanuts, eggs, tree nuts, wheat, soy, or fish) reported almost two hours of reduced crying per day. Check with your baby’s pediatrician about this (it’s rather restrictive), but this method was found to be effective even after just one or two weeks. In addition to milk and other dairy items, caffeinated beverages, onions, and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts may cause irritability in your baby.

Nursing issues

Switching up your breastfeeding routine may also be of help. It's very common for babies to doze off at the breast, which means they don't get filled up and wake sooner -- and in tears -- looking to eat again. Try nursing for five or ten minutes on one breast, burping, then doing the same on the other side. (At the next feeding, start on the opposite breast.) This transition helps keep the baby awake, so he can begin to separate sleeping from feeding. Another trick is to strip the baby down for a feeding so he stays awake.

It's tempting to keep on nursing when your baby fusses, but he could end up getting in the habit of grazing, which can be very hard on Mom. Suckling is calming, however, so offer a pacifier if he needs soothing when it's not mealtime.

Also, to keep your baby from swallowing too much air during nursing sessions, be sure his lips form a good seal and are placed far back on your areola, not just on your nipple.  

Fussy babies often have problems with overstimulation, so it's also important to reduce noise and other distractions during feeding sessions.

Sleep problems
Dealing with a colicky baby is exhausting to say the least. And while it's tempting to allow a fussy baby to snooze as much as he wants, whenever he wants, allowing him to nap more than three hours at a stretch means he won't sleep as long at night. (Plus you’ll probably want to feed him every 2-3 hours anyway) Practicing a good sleep routine may win you quiet time later in the eve and at bed time, when colic tends to be at its worst.

Naps for Mom are important, too, since sleep plays a crucial role in a mother's mental health. When your baby is down for naptime, do all you can to lie down as well. Draw the shades, turn off your cell phone and pull a soft, cozy blanket up to your chin. Even an hour will do wonders for your emotional state and energy level.

System overload

Some babies simply need to turn off the outside world, and get back to a womb-like place of peace and quiet. When the tears start, try these comforting remedies:

Swaddle: Babies who have colic may be more sensitive than others and therefore overly stimulated by their environment; being wrapped in a warm blanket can help them feel secure. If this does the trick for your babe, you may want to invest in a front carrier or a sling so that you can keep your hands free while he's swaddled close to your body. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions, though, so you know you’re using it correctly.

Cozy up: The more snuggling the better! Don’t believe the old wives’ tale that holding your newborn spoils her -- it’s simply not case. Rather, attending to a crying baby teaches an infant to trust the tall people around her.

Make it musical: Soothing words or repetitive singing (some people find a shushing sound works), especially when accompanied by gentle rhythmic motion, can help calm your baby. You can also try white noise, like the washer or dryer or the whir of a fan. A white noise machine does the trick, too.

Seek silence: Crowds, loud noises, bouncing, jiggling, or jostling may upset some babies. (Others seem to love this kind of commotion.) When he starts to fuss, take him to a quiet room with subdued lighting and a minimal amount of stimuli.

Get a grip: Place your baby across your lap, tummy down, and pat his back, or carry him facedown on your forearm with his legs draped over either side of your elbow. Then pat his back with your other hand while walking or rocking. Another hold to try is called the ‘neck nestle’. Position your baby's head into the crook of your neck and croon a low-pitched tune. (This can be a Daddy specialty -- the male voice is deeper and vibrates more, acting as a natural baby calmer).

Hit the road: Countless parents of colicky babies attest to the wonders of a car ride. The motion and the sound of the motor can lull the baby to sleep -- at least for a while. Another more energy-saving strategy: Take your baby for a stroller ride around the house or block until he nods off.

Dance it off: The type of choreography that works best to soothe colic mimics the motion that a baby experienced while in the womb: up and down, side to side, and forward and backward. Make up your own moves and add your fave tunes. Singing, humming, clucking, cooing -- do whatever seems to work! Some babies also love to breastfeed in a sling or carrier while you sway to music.

Pump it up: Lay your baby face up on your lap and slowly pump his legs in a bicycling motion (this movement can expel painful gas, which may be a tear-trigger). You might also try sitting him on your lap, with his back against your chest; then encircle your arms under his bottom and curl your arms up. Bouncing him while you sit on a large, rubber exercise ball can also give relief.

Feel the heat: Place your baby stomach-down on a cushion or a warm (not hot) water bottle wrapped in a cloth diaper and rub his back. You can also sit him in a warm tub, which is also very soothing. Or lie on your bed or the floor and hold your baby tummy-to-tummy and skin-to-skin with his ear over your heart.

Massage: Place your baby face up on your lap, with your palm over his navel, and encircle his abdomen with your fingers and thumb. Then lean him forward and gently press your hand into his tense belly. Infants also love massage, so lay him on his back and picture an upside-down U on his abdomen. Using warm massage oil, gently knead his tummy with a circular motion, massaging clockwise (as you face him) along the lines of the imaginary U.

Reflect it back: Hold your baby in front of a mirror and let him witness his meltdown. Place his hand or bare foot against his image -- he may actually quiet down at the sight of his own drama!

Swing into action: An infant swing can work wonders, giving a colicky baby a constant steady motion and giving you a much-needed break. (Just be sure he’s strapped into it securely). Baby seats that vibrate are also worth a try, as the gentle jiggling can also calm tears.

Take a break: If the going gets very tough, it’s ok to step away for a few minutes to collect yourself. A baby will actually pick up on his parent's anxiety, which ratchets up his own distress even more. If nothing is working, put your baby in a safe place, like the crib, and take a 10-minute breather.

Treatment for Parents

Although colic is obviously hard on baby, it can be equally tough on parents, especially new ones who might feel it’s somehow their fault. Forty-five percent of moms who visit the Colic Clinic report some level of postpartum depression. Colic is not your fault, and it’s not a reflection of your parenting abilities. The fact that you are reading this in an attempt to find answers is a testament to how deeply you care about your baby.

If friends or family offer to help, accept it to give yourself a breather, and don’t be afraid to come right out and ask for a hand. Do your best to take care of yourself, eating well and getting as much sleep as is possible with a newborn. You’ll cope better if you feel well. Try to find other moms who are dealing with colicky babies, either in your community or online, so you’ll feel less alone. And if you feel angry or at the end of your rope (a normal feeling when you’re dealing with a little person who can’t tell you what’s wrong and won’t give you a moment’s peace), don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help.