How Long Does Colic Last?

Your Guide to the Timing of Colic and What You Can Do

The crying never seems to end. You’ve fed your baby, changed his diaper and lovingly repeated every lullaby you know. But the crying and fretting continues. How long will it last? And what can you do to soothe your baby and yourself? A better understanding of colic gives you hope that an end is in sight.

What Is Colic?

Newborn baby dressed in white laying on her back

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Colic is a relatively general condition, but what causes it is unclear. Experts describe it as crying or fretful behavior that lasts for more than three hours a day on more than three days a week for more than three weeks in an otherwise healthy baby who eats well.

The crying is often very intense, and your baby may be inconsolable. You might notice your baby extending or pulling up her legs. Her stomach may be distended or larger than normal. Babies with colic tend to have predictable patterns of crying. Late afternoon and evening are the most common times when the crying episodes start.

Outside of crying and acting fussy, babies with colic appear healthy and normal. They have a good appetite and sucking reflex, and they tend to gain weight and grow as they should. Bowel movements are also normal in most babies with colic.

Experts aren’t entirely sure what causes colic. Some believe colic is a nervous system issue that babies are unable to regulate because their bodies are immature, which causes hypersensitivity to stimulation. Your baby may be unable to self-console because of that sensitivity. Others think that a breastfed baby may become colicky because of a sensitivity to something her mom eats.

How Long Does It Last?

If your baby is going to have colic, he will begin showing symptoms around a few weeks old, although premature babies may become colicky a little later than full-term babies. Colic often improves by around age 3 or 4 months, but the condition can continue to 6 months of age. It usually resolves on its own within a few weeks or months. The length varies from one baby to another.

Ways to Help a Baby With Colic

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Colic is not an easy situation to handle. You don’t really know what’s causing the issue, and nothing you do seems to calm your baby. You’re already working on little sleep, so the intense crying can become overwhelming. If you feel yourself become upset or angry, ask someone to watch your baby, so you can get away for a short time. The break can help you regroup and calm down.

Besides keeping yourself calm, there are ways to help your baby feel a little more comfortable and potentially calm down. Try these methods:

  • Swaddle him to make him feel secure.
  • Put him in a baby carrier and walk around. He gets to snuggle up close to you, and the motion of your movement sometimes helps calm him.
  • Run a fan, vacuum cleaner or dryer to create soothing white noise. You can also use a white noise machine. Some babies may respond to quiet, calm music.
  • Offer your baby a pacifier. The sucking action is often soothing to babies.
  • Place him on his tummy across your legs to give him some gentle pressure. Rub his back for additional soothing.
  • If you’re breastfeeding, eliminate caffeine, dairy products, onions and cabbage from your diet. These foods may cause irritation to your breastfed baby.
  • Eliminate external stimuli that could overwhelm your baby. A quiet, dark room may be soothing for him if he seems overly sensitive to light and sound.
  • Increase burping sessions when you feed your baby to help him get rid of gas.
  • Try a bouncer seat or baby swing. Your baby may find the motion soothing.

When to See a Doctor

If your baby cries inconsolably for long stretches, talk to your pediatrician. It’s always a good idea to have a doctor rule out other potential causes of crying even if you think your baby has colic.

If you notice anything abnormal beyond the crying, check with the doctor. For example, if your baby isn’t eating well, gaining weight or having normal bowel movements, the crying may be caused by something else. Let your doctor know if you notice changes in your baby’s behavior or sleeping patterns. You should also seek medical attention if your baby’s lips or skin take on a bluish color during the crying episodes.