Your baby's doctor will do a complete physical exam to identify any possible causes for your baby's distress. The exam will include:
- Measuring your baby's height, weight and head circumference
- Listening to the heart, lungs and abdominal sounds
- Examining the limbs, fingers, toes, eyes, ears and genitals
- Assessing reaction to touch or movement
- Looking for signs of rash, inflammation, or other signs of infection or allergies
Lab tests, X-rays and other diagnostic tests aren't usually needed, but in unclear cases they help to exclude other conditions as possible causes.
The primary goals are to soothe the child as much as possible with a variety of interventions and ensure that parents have the support they need to cope.
You may find it helpful to have a plan, a list of soothing strategies you can try. You may need to experiment. Some may work better than others, and some may work one time but not another. Soothing strategies may include:
- Using a pacifier
- Taking your infant for a car ride or on a walk in a stroller
- Walking around with or rocking your baby
- Swaddling your baby in a blanket
- Giving your baby a warm bath
- Rubbing your infant's tummy or placing your baby on the tummy for a back rub
- Playing an audio of heartbeats or quiet, soothing sounds
- Providing white noise by running a white noise machine, a vacuum cleaner or clothes drier in a nearby room
- Dimming the lights and limiting other visual stimulation
Changes in feeding practices may also provide some relief. Bottle-feed your baby in an upright position and burp frequently during and after a feeding. Using a curved bottle will help with upright feeding, and a collapsible bag bottle can reduce the intake of air.
Trial changes in diet
If soothing or feeding practices aren't reducing crying or irritability, your doctor may recommend a short-term trial of dietary changes. If your baby has a food allergy, however, there would likely be other signs and symptoms, such as a rash, wheezing, vomiting or diarrhea. Dietary changes may include:
- Formula changes. If you feed your infant formula, your doctor may suggest a one-week trial of an extensive hydrolysate formula (Similac Alimentum, Nutramigen, Pregestimil, others) that has proteins broken down into smaller sizes.
- Maternal diet. If you're breast-feeding, you may try a diet without common food allergens, such as dairy, eggs, nuts and wheat. You may also try eliminating potentially irritating foods, such as cabbage, onions or caffeinated beverages.
Caring for an infant who has colic can be exhausting and stressful, even for experienced parents. The following strategies can help you take care of yourself and get the support you need:
- Take a break. Take turns with your spouse or partner, or ask a friend to take over for a while. Give yourself an opportunity to get out of the house if possible.
- Use the crib for short breaks. It's OK to put your baby in the crib for a while during a crying episode if you need to collect yourself or calm your own nerves.
- Express your feelings. It's normal for parents in this situation to feel helpless, depressed, guilty or angry. Share your feelings with family members, friends and your child's doctor.
- Don't judge yourself. Don't measure your success as a parent by how much your baby cries. Colic isn't a result of poor parenting, and inconsolable crying isn't a sign of your baby rejecting you.
- Take care of your health. Eat healthy foods. Make time for exercise, such as a brisk daily walk. If you can, sleep when the baby sleeps — even during the day. Avoid alcohol and other drugs.
- Remember that it's temporary. Colic episodes often improve after age 3 to 4 months.
- Have a rescue plan. If possible make a plan with a friend or relative to step in when you're overwhelmed. If necessary, contact your doctor, a local crisis intervention service or a mental health help line for additional support.
Potential future treatments
One factor that may contribute to colic is an imbalance of the helpful bacteria in an infant's digestive tract. One treatment under investigation is the use of good bacteria (probiotics) to create an appropriate bacterial balance to improve overall digestive health.
Some studies have shown a reduction in crying times when babies with colic were treated with a bacterium called Lactobacillus reuteri. The studies have been conducted with small groups, and results have been somewhat mixed. Most experts agree there's not enough evidence at this time to support the use of probiotics to treat colic.
Several small studies have shown some benefits or mixed results for alternative treatments. There's not enough evidence, however, to judge the potential benefit over the risks. Alternative remedies under investigation include:
- Herbal teas
- Herbal remedies, such as fennel oil
- Sugar water
- Gripe water, a mix of water and herbs
- Massage therapy
- Chiropractic manipulation
Known risks include the following issues:
- Regular use of herbal teas or other liquid preparations may lead to decreased milk intake or a drop in sodium levels in an infant's blood.
- The lack of product regulation may result in contamination, unlabeled ingredients or inconsistent dosages in herbal remedies.
- Some homeopathic remedies contain low amounts of potentially toxic substances.
Talk to your doctor before using an alternative medicine to treat your infant for colic.
Preparing for your appointment
When you take your baby to the doctor, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready.
What you can do
To prepare for your appointment, keep a written record of the following information:
- The time and duration of crying episodes
- The age of your infant when the prolonged and recurrent crying pattern began
- Observations about your baby's behavior or other factors before, during or after an episode
- Your baby's feeding and sleeping schedule
- Strategies that you have used to soothe your child
- The people involved in caring for your infant, such as the other parent, grandparents, baby sitter or child care center professionals
Write down any additional questions you have about your baby's health or development. During your appointment, don't hesitate to ask any other questions as they occur to you.
What to expect from your doctor
Your baby's doctor is likely to ask a number of questions, such as:
- Can you describe a typical crying episode?
- What does your baby's cry sound like?
- Does your baby's body tense up?
- When do episodes occur? How long do they last? How many times a week?
- What things do you do to try to soothe your baby? How well do those things work?
- Does your baby have any problems with eating?
- Does the crying happen right after eating?
- What do you feed your baby, and how often?
- How often and how much does your baby spit up?
- How long does your baby sleep at a time? Have there been recent changes in sleep patterns?
- Does your baby ever seem to have trouble breathing during these episodes?
- How do you cope when your baby is crying? What about the rest of your family?
Your answers to these questions can help your doctor determine if there are other conditions that may be contributing to crying and discomfort.