Symptoms of Colic in Babies

Signs of Baby Colic

It can be hard to know for sure if a baby has colic.  This is because there are no definite colic signs which are the same for every little person. Colic is generally given as the reason when no other obvious solution is found. It’s worth remembering that there are a range of behaviours which are universal in healthy, young babies who cry for no obvious reason. Always speak and check with a qualified nurse or healthcare professional to seek help and advice on how to manage your colicky babies.

What is Colic?

Colic is defined as crying for more than three hours a day, for three days of the week or more and, for longer than three weeks. In thriving babies aged from birth to three months, colic is frequently given as the reason for crying.

Colic is not a true diagnosis, but rather a range of symptoms in an otherwise healthy and happy baby.

It’s easy to conjure up images of trapped air in a baby’s gut being the cause for their distress.  Perhaps this is the reason for a colicky baby’s crying, but there are also other, more likely causes for colic behaviour.

What Causes Colic?

  • The immaturity of the baby and their gut.
  • The baby feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated.
  • Issues with milk absorption –either breast milk or formula.

What Does a Colic Cry Sound Like?

Colicky crying can also be rather distinctive. The crying tends to come in waves, as if the baby is experiencing pain which comes and goes. Sometimes crying during colic episodes sounds high pitched, almost as if the baby has been hurt. At other times, the crying is hard and incessant, with few pauses in-between to take a breath. Often in the late afternoon, a colicky baby may just seem miserable and cranky, their crying more of a continuous grizzle than a loud bellow.

Typically, a baby experiencing colic goes very red in the face.  They also close their eyes and cry with all their effort. Their arms and legs stiffen and they seem to put their whole body into communicating their distress. They may also sporadically pull their legs up as if they are in pain. Understandably, this can be challenging to witness. Especially for parents who are trying to do all they can to soothe and comfort their baby.

Many times, no matter what parents do, a baby with colic continues to cry and fuss.

Here We Go Again...

Crying due to colic can last for hours at a time. Typically crying starts in the late afternoon/evening and continues until around 8pm or even later. 

Babies who experience colic tend to be at their happiest in the mornings, when they may seem just fine.  This makes it difficult for parents to understand exactly why the change in their baby’s behaviour in a few short hours.

Oh, You’re OK Now!

Colic crying is exhausting for most babies. As adults we know how draining it can feel to shed a few tears.  For a small baby the effort in crying, sometimes non-stop for a few hours each day must be particularly fatiguing.   It’s normal for parents to find themselves wondering how their baby gets so much energy to cry so hard.    

Typically, after a few hours, babies with colic eventually relax and go off to sleep.  Some days they calm more easily and their crying episodes are not as drawn out. On other days, soothing sessions can almost seem like a marathon.   

Other Reasons Why Young Babies Cry

  • Gastroesophageal reflux. Most newborns reflux due to the immaturity of their gut. Basically, the short distance between their mouth and stomach, combined with a relaxed sphincter at the stop of their stomach contribute to the likelihood of reflux.
  • An infection. A urinary tract infection or ear infection can cause intense crying.
  • A hernia – typically an inguinal or umbilical hernia.
  • Nervous system immaturity.
  • A nappy rash or other irritating skin condition.

How Would I Know if My Baby Has Colic?

You may not know with 100% certainty that your baby has colic. There are no medical tests or investigations which given a definitive diagnosis of colic.  It’s the baby’s behaviour which gives the biggest clue as to whether colic could be the cause for their distress.

Is your Baby

  • Aged from birth to three months?
  • Happy, healthy and thriving?
  • Gaining weight and reaching their developmental milestones?
  • Feeding well and having plenty of wet and dirty nappies?
  • Generally happy in the mornings, but as the day proceeds becomes cranky and irritable?
  • Having crying episodes in the afternoons and evenings?
  • Not responding to all the usual strategies you try to soothe them?
  • Crying for a few hours at a time at around the same time each day?

If you’ve answered yes to most of the questions above, it’s reasonable to assume your baby has colic. But first, check with your child health nurse or doctor who can see your baby and check them over. It’s important that other physical causes for your baby’s crying are ruled out.

Five Top Tips to Manage Baby Colic

  1. Care well for yourself. Listening to crying for hours on end can really take a toll. Be prepared for crying spells and minimise demands on your time, other than caring for your little one.
  2. Give your baby a deep, warm bath. Save their bath time for later in the day when it may be most valuable.
  3. Walk, rock, swing and sway with your baby in your arms. Put some music on to counterbalance the crying in your ears.
  4. Share your baby’s cares with your partner or another trusted adult. Don’t expect too much of yourself. There will be times when you’ll just need to have a little break.
  5. Put your baby in their pram and go for a walk. Consider using a sling or pouch if they’re not happy in a pram.  The rhythm of walking can make a difference to the baby, and getting out of the house may help you.


Support is available at your local child health centre.