Crying is one of the things babies do best — that is, when they’re not sleeping, eating or smiling. Crying is a baby’s way of communicating, usually to let you know that they are hungry, tired, in need of a new nappy, uncomfortable or bored, or just because they want a cuddle. But some babies cry louder and longer than others for no apparent reason.

What is colic?

Up to 30% of babies suffer from colic, a pattern of excessive crying with no known cause. Colic in babies tends to follow this pattern: crying for more than 3 hours per day (usually in the evening), for more than 3 days per week, for at least 3 weeks.

If your baby has colic, they may pull their legs up to their belly, arch their back, stiffen their arms and legs, pass wind and have a tense, bloated tummy. These behaviours plus inconsolable crying typically start a few weeks after birth and thankfully stop in most babies of their own accord at 4 to 6 months of age.

Colic and cow’s milk allergy

Colic is a possible sign of cow’s milk allergy. Colic-type symptoms may occur as a delayed reaction within a few hours or days of consuming cow’s milk protein. Babies with cow’s milk allergy may have a range of symptoms of which colic could be just one. Other symptoms include skin reactions and hay fever-like symptoms. 

What else could cause colic?

Experts aren’t sure what causes colic or why certain babies get it while others don’t. As well as the suggestion that colic could be caused by sensitivity to proteins in milk, there are some other theories. These include indigestion or trapped wind, or that colic is an extreme form of normal crying. Colic can also be associated with baby reflux (gastroesophageal reflux or GERD).

What can I do to soothe a baby with colic?

The following methods may be helpful to soothe a baby with colic. Remember, every baby responds differently so you may need to try a variety of techniques before finding the ones that work best for your baby.

  • Swaddling or wrapping your baby in a thin, large blanket can make them feel more secure as it recreates the feeling of the womb. Ask a healthcare professional to show you how to swaddle your baby so that they can’t wriggle free
  • Carry your baby in a sling or front carrier on your chest as you walk around. The body contact and motion are calming. To ease wind, lay your baby tummy-down across your knees while gently rubbing their back
  • Steady, rhythmic movements are soothing. Cradle your baby while rocking in a chair, or try a baby swing or a vibrating baby seat
  • Recreate the soothing womb environment with soft music, a white noise machine, a fan or a recording of a heartbeat
  • Help your baby find their hand, fingers or thumbs to suck on or consider offering a dummy to pacify them
  • Massage your baby. Babies love skin-to-skin contact and studies suggest babies who are regularly massaged cry and fuss less. Ask a healthcare professional for information about local baby massage classes 

If you are still struggling to calm your baby or you have any concerns about their health, speak to a healthcare professional for further advice.