What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is colic?

Colic is a condition rather than an illness and the actual cause is unproven. It's characterised by babies crying uncontrollably when they're otherwise healthy.

Your baby may cry for three hours or more a day, a shrill or piercing cry and draw their legs up to their chest. The crying may follow a pattern and often starts in late afternoon or early evening. Colic usually starts in the first month of life and usually resolves by the time a baby is around three or four months old.

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The crying can be very distressing for parents, and can make you feel as if you are incapable of soothing your baby. It's important to get some respite, especially if you feel yourself becoming frustrated. See if you can hand him over to someone else while you have a short break, or put him down in his cot safely and go into another room or the garden for five minutes. If you feel unable to cope and need help, contact Cry-sis, a support group that offers telephone counseling.

What are the symptoms of Colic?

The first and most obvious symptom is intense relentless crying that follows a pattern and often occurs in the late afternoon or early evening. Your baby may go bright red in the face, draw his legs up to his chest then kick them out rigid, he may arch his back and screw up his fists.

Seek urgent medical help if his cries become weak and/or high-pitched, seems floppy when you pick him up or has a high temperature (38 degrees C or above), has a bulging fontanelle or turns blue or very pale. You know your baby best, so if you are unsure, seek medical help anyway.

What are the treatments and remedies of Colic?

There are over-the-counter remedies available, which some parents report as being helpful, while others find they make no difference. Home treatments you might find soothe your baby include:

  • Lying your baby across your lap on his tummy and patting or rubbing his back
  • Rhythmic rocking, where you hold your baby face down across one forearm, supporting him with your other arm and rocking from side to side
  • If you are breastfeeding winding him midway through a feed may help as well as at the end. If you are bottle-feeding, try using an anti-colic teat
  • Holding your baby high up against your shoulder and rubbing his back
  • Give him a warm bath and gently rub his tummy

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net