The Dreaded C Word

Photo by Morgan via Flickr
Photo by Morgan via Flickr

Our Crunchy Granola Mama Doc Emily Pike takes on the c word.

No, not *that* “C” word! This one has five letters, not four, and brings fear to the hearts of new parents everywhere.


Now, this is not a label that should be applied lightly. The official definition goes beyond just gassiness or fussiness. Colic is defined as inconsolable crying for more than three hours per day, more than three days per week, for longer than three weeks; it is often worse later in the day. It affects boys and girls equally and isn’t linked to either breastfeeding or formula feeding. It can drive already-exhausted new parents to the edge of sanity.

And the frustrating part is that there is still no known cause.

There are lots of colic “cures” out there, but there’s very little evidence to support most of them. Lack of evidence doesn’t necessarily mean that desperate parents shouldn’t try different things, but I’d definitely start with the evidence-based suggestions to get the best bang for your buck.

For breastfed infants, the best evidence-based option seems to be supplementing with the specific probiotic strain Lactobacillus reuteri, which was helpful in reducing crying time in 4 out of 5 clinical trials. However, one trial found that this strain actually increased crying time in formula-fed infants. That’s just one trial, so it may still be worth trying for a colicky formula-fed baby, but beware that it may have the opposite of the intended effect. The best deal I found on Amazon for L. reuteri drops was this one. Some breastfeeding moms find that limiting certain foods in their diets can reduce colic symptoms as well. One study showed a significant decrease in crying time for colicky infant when their nursing moms eliminated common allergens like cow’s milk, soy, wheat, eggs, nuts, and fish.

For formula-fed infants, changing to a hydrolyzed formula, where the proteins are partially or completely broken down, may be an option. However, these are generally VERY expensive compared to standard infant formula, so this is not an option you’d want to jump to right away. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against switching to soy-based formula to help colic symptoms.

As far as traditional medications go, simethicone and proton pump inhibitors (like omeprazole, for example) are no better than placebo for treatment of colic. Dicyclomine had promising results in several studies, but it’s not safe to use for infants under 6 months of age due to significant side effects.

Studies done so far on infant massage, acupuncture, osteopathic treatment, and chiropractic adjustments have had design problems that make their outcomes unreliable. This doesn’t mean that these aren’t safe or worthwhile things to try; it just means that there’s no scientific evidence to prove that any of these have high likelihood of helping.

Swaddling, babywearing, using white noise, offering gripe water, using herbal options like peppermint or chamomile tea, using highly diluted lavender or orange essential oils or hydrosols on the abdomen, using a vented bottle, and changing feeding positions are also possibilities to consider, but again there’s no hard and fast evidence behind these yet.

Just know that there is a light at the end of the colic tunnel–most kids outgrow it by 3 to 6 months of age. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for support from friends and family to get a break from time to time. If getting out of the house to connect with other adults face-to-face is just too much to manage, try to find a community of support online. It helps so much to know that you’re not alone in facing the challenge of a colicky infant!

For more information, check out

Based on the article “Infantile Colic: Recognition and Treatment” via American Family Physician.

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