Four signs your baby could have colic

Posted on 16 September 2016

Colic is a common condition that affects babies from around six weeks of age. This is how to spot and treat colic or to check for other more serious conditions.

Colic defined

‘We define colic babies by three things,’ says Dr Yolanda Visser, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Panorama. ‘Crying three hours a day, for three days a week, three weeks in a row.’ The important thing is to see a doctor or paediatrician to rule out serious or treatable conditions such as pediatric rheumatic disease or ear infection.

Excessive crying

A baby with colic will cry often with seemingly little cause: the baby is not hungry, wet, over-tired or in need of attention but is still crying and showing signs of discomfort. While this is distressing and difficult for tired parents, it is a relatively harmless condition, which passes in as little as six weeks, provided there is no other underlying health problem.

Fever is not related to colic and should be investigated. Fevers over 38°C in infants need to be treated by a medical professional because normally they indicate an infection or other serious condition requiring medical treatment.


There is no known cause or cure for colic, but there is a theory that overstimulation may play a role. ‘Babies exposed to noise and bright or flashing light may be frazzled and not get enough sleep, which would cause them to show signs of colic,’ says Dr Visser. Relaxation techniques for mother and baby are recommended. Try infant massage to soothe the baby and ensure regular breaks for the parents.

Back arching

Another theory is that colic is caused by an immature and growing digestive tract. This may lead to reflux, gas build-up, or painful sensations. ‘Babies with reflux will sometimes arch their backs. If your baby is also vomiting or posseting, reflux may well be a factor,’ says Dr Visser. The good news is that reflux and digestive problems can be treated. ‘Probiotics have been shown to help.

You can also try to raise your baby’s mattress by 60 degrees, offering small regular feeds every two hours, burping your baby properly and avoiding putting your baby down straight after a feed.’ A small warm (not hot) beanbag placed on the baby’s tummy and gentle tummy rubbing can also be beneficial.

Digestive upsets

Digestive symptoms may or may not be evident in a baby with colic, but diarrhoea, severe projectile vomiting, constipation and even eczema might indicate an allergy to cow’s milk. This is more prevalent in formula-fed babies, but the mothers of breastfed babies are also advised to avoid all dairy products for a time to see if that helps (read labels because dairy is often present in small amounts in most processed foods).

‘There is an allergy test available, but it can be inaccurate and expensive, so I advise eliminating all dairy from the mom and baby’s diet to see if it makes a difference,’ says Dr Visser.

‘The important thing to remember about colic is that it is different for each baby but on the whole, your baby should outgrow it by three months of age. My own baby had colic for four months,’ says Dr Visser. ‘I tell the parents of babies with colic that trial and error, as well as patience is required.’

Some parents swear by over the counter or home remedies, while others say these have no effect. ‘Please be wary of medicines high in alcohol or salt and always consult your healthcare professional to ensure your baby does not have an underlying illness or medical condition,’ Dr Visser cautions.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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