How to Deal with Colic in Infants (and still get some sleep!)

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD
Medical fact-check: Dr Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Effective remedies to relieve your baby and get the most sleep are important. Colic in infants has no official cause although often linked to cramps, gas and reflux . But the discomfort is real. So let's have a look at what is what and what you can do.

Colic in Infants Newborn baby crying

What exactly is colic in infants?

There is some confusion out there as to what it is exactly.

Researchers define colic as pure excessive crying, using Wessel's rule of threes (crying for more than 3h/day, 3 or more days/week, for more than 3 weeks in a row).

See crying in newborn infants for more details on this.

In real life, this is a too strict definition and parents speak of it much earlier.

Many parents even specifically talk about colic when they suspect crying because of a digestive issue, cramps or gas.

Others call the crying due to pain from reflux , colic as well.

Some see it as nothing but getting the day's tensions out of the way (stress).

In summary the every-day parent definition is a combination of these:

Colic is when a young child between 3 weeks and 3-4 months old cries for a prolonged time,
typically in late afternoon and early night, for no apparent reason.
It often concurs with discomfort from stress, tummy aches, gas or acid reflux.

Almost all babies easily grow out of this by the age of 3 or 4 months old. The chance of having a colicky infant is lower when breastfeeding. [1]

Baby Colic Remedies - Checklist

What to do if your little one, between 3 weeks and 3-4 months old, cries a lot in the evenings? Go through this list of 4 :

1. Check the reflux symptoms guide . If your child has reflux, that should be relieved and treated before anything else. The serious version, GERD, must be diagnosed and treated by your doctor.

Otherwise, and as a complement to medication, use the reflux relief tips .

2. Soothe and comfort . Soothing a crying baby is our natural instinct but these days many of us are afraid of spoiling . But you needn't worry about that, research shows that a child can not be spoiled before the age of 8-12 months old.

Try and combine any or several of the following to lovingly soothe your little one:

  • Hold, rock, walk about, sing all the lullabies you know.
  • Carrying often in a sling or carrier has proven time and again to relieve colic discomfort drastically. Baby wearing reduces stress and that honestly is as good as a miracle solution to colic.
  • Make a plain old "shhhhh" sound, or let your phone do it for you with an app like the Shusher iPhone app as in in this mom's review .
  • Soothing baby colic remedies

    • A boring white noise sound can also be very efficient.
    • Holding her on her tummy on your arm as in the picture is a position that helps relieve many babies.

      Tummy position helps soothe but remember that on the back is the only safe sleeping position to leave your baby alone in.
    • Holding your little one high on your shoulder - while she's looking behind your back is also a helpful position to try.
    • Many babies find it comforting if you gently stroke their forehead and one or two temples (sides of the head at the height of the eyes).

    3. If you suspect cramps or gas : visit the gas page. Mainly work with diet adjustments and feeding positions. These are simple but surprisingly effective.

    4. Gripe water is often used to try and soothe soothe all kinds of causes of colic in infants. But it comes with a warning!

    Gripe water is a traditional natural remedy, first used in England in the 19th century. It's always consisted of natural ingredients, herbs and plant extracts but has evolved and changed a lot over the years.

    The danger is that some formulations of gripe water contain harmful ingredients like caffeine and/or belladonna. Always discuss the use of gripe water with your doctor or pediatrician to make sure it's absolutely safe.

    This is a hit-or-miss type of remedy : some parents rave about how wonderfully it helps with calming. Others see no effect at all.

    Colic calm is an FDA approved homeopathic type of gripe water. It contains chamomile, fennel, caraway, ginger, peppermint, lemon balm, aloe, blackthorn and vegetable carbon.

    In all, relieving colic in infants is all about reducing discomfort as much as possible.

    But realize, sometimes there is really no cause, and no easy relief.

    Your baby is having a difficult time right now. And the single best remedy is YOU: just being there, reassuring her (and not thinking she's playing you) is the very best you can do.

    To keep your own sanity, make sure you're not alone.

    Ask your partner, a friend or family member to help you out. Taking just a 30 minute break, where you can just take a few moments to breathe , knowing someone is looking after your colicky baby, can make all the difference. Ask me if you'd like support with this.

    Article Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD - Founder, senior sleep consultant

    Heidi Holvoet, PhD

    Heidi Holvoet, PhD, is the founder of the Baby Sleep Advice website and movement, an award-winning author, baby & toddler sleep consultant with 15+ years experience as well as a certified lactation counselor.

    Over the years, Heidi has received several awards inluding a Mom's Choice Award (MCA) and National Parenting Awards (NAPPA) for her Baby Sleep Advice website, programs and books. Also, Baby Sleep Advice was awarded "Most Trusted Infant's Sleep Solutions Company 2023" in the Benelux Enterprise Awards 2023.

    Heidi continually conducts personal research and participates in continued education and in that way stays up to date with current scientific and pyschosocial infant care.

    Association of Professional Sleep Consultants

    She is also a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants of which she was one of the earliest contributors. She obtained her PhD degree in physics at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

    Heidi is passionate about helping babies and their parents sleep more and better, with her trademark approach that has been proven and praised time and again by parents worldwide to be effective and truly no-tears. Respect for you as a parent and your baby, is at the heart of Heidi's warm and kind support. Her approach always keeps in mind a baby's needs and abilities at any given age, is based on pediatric science and the most up to date knowledge in infant care and sleep science.

    As well as the award-winning baby sleep programs, Heidi offers popular 1:1 consults and easy-access 30-minute SOS Sleep sessions.

    [1] Infantile colic incidence and associated risk factors: a cohort study J Pediatr (Rio J). 2003 Mar-Apr;79(2):115-22.