What is colic?

It is a term used to imply crying in a baby due to abdominal pain. Diagnosis is usually made when :

  • There is continual or persistent bout of intense crying in babies without any apparent reason.
  • This typically lasts between 2 to 4 hours a day for at least 5 days a week and usually begins at about 2 or 3 weeks of age and subsides by 3 to 4 months.

Why do some babies have colic?

Cause is not known. Proposed aetiologies include:

  • Gastrointestinal :
    • Cow’s milk protein allergy.
    • Lactose intolerance.
    • Immature gut. Incomplete absorption of carbohydrate leading to excessive gas production.
    • Discomfort caused by abdominal gas.
    • Constipation
  • Biological :
    • Feeding techniques. Underfeeding, overfeeding and infrequent burping.
    • Tobacco smoke exposure. There is an increased risk of infantile colic in infants of mothers who smoked during pregnancy or in the postpartum period.
  • Psychosocial
    • Parental stress.
  • Others
    • Immature central nervous system causing a child to be hypersensitive to environmental stimuli.

Do many babies have this problem?

It is estimated that 1 in 5-10 babies is affected.

How does a child show he has colic?

He usually demonstrates :

  • Prolonged bouts of intense high pitched crying which may be associated with drawing up of legs and clenching of fists, and not usually associated with abdominal distension, vomiting, fever and other signs of illness.

Does colic lead to any other serious problem?

  • Babies are usually healthy and developing normally.
  • Colic however can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety within the family.
  • Feelings of parental inadequacy and constant worrying may emerge.

How should colic be treated?

  • No cure is available. It usually disappears by 3 to 4 months spontaneously.
  • If your child has colic :
    • Avoid too much handling when your child is fussy.
    • Wrap up your child snugly, cradle comfortably, sooth and handle gently
    • Reduce noise levels
    • Consider taking the child on a car ride as this may be helpful
    • Never shake your baby.
    • Anytime you feel tired or upset, get someone else to watch your baby while you take a break.

Consult your doctor if :

  • Your baby’s cry changes from a fussy to a painful one.
  • Other complications like vomiting, abdominal distension, diarrhoea and constipation occur.
  • Your baby has a fever.
  • You are so tired and anxious and not able to cope.

Are there any medications that may be helpful?

  • Drugs are usually not effective to treat colic.
  • ‘Wind’ or ‘colic’ drops and a drug called dimethicone are sometimes prescribed to help relieve abdominal symptoms but have not been proven to be effective.

What can you do to prevent colic?

If your baby is bottle feeding :

  • Avoid excessive air swallowing during feeding and ensure proper teat size and technique and adequate burping.

If your baby is breastfeeding :

  • Continue to do so but, avoid certain foods e.g. cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and caffeine in mother’s diet as this may precipitate a colicky attack in baby.


  • Colic is a distressing condition but does not cause any lasting harm in babies. An accurate diagnosis is important.
  • Consult your doctor if:
    • Diagnosis is uncertain.
    • Other signs and symptoms occur.
Last reviewed : 28 August 2020
Writer : Dr. Irene Cheah Guat Sim
    Dr. Lim Sern Chin
Reviewer : Dr. Zainab bt. Kusiar