What Causes Colic in Babies?

OK — you and your bundle of joy are living with colic. What does that actually mean?

Within the pediatric medical community and its researchers, colic is typically defined as a condition that appears in 2 to 3 week old newborns, featuring uncontrollable crying with no apparent cause, lasting for 3 hours or more at a time, and happening at least 3 times a week for at least 3 weeks. That’s the ‘Colic Rule of Threes.’

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics nearly 25% of all babies born in the US develop colic in the first 3 – 6 weeks after birth.  For an ailment as common as colic, you might be surprised to learn that we don’t actually know what causes it. It could be a stomach irritation, a change or imbalance in baby’s gut biome, overstimulation of the senses or infantile acid reflux. It might be an allergic reaction, or even just a sensitivity, to certain ingredients in formula if you’re using it. If you breastfeed, it could be a sensitivity or allergic reaction to something in the food YOU eat, since your diet affects the contents of your milk. It might even be exposure to tobacco or secondhand tobacco smoke, although we don’t know how yet.

What we DO know are some of the things that DON’T cause colic. We know, for instance, that being a good, or bad, parent, does not affect whether your baby develops colic. No matter how guilty you might feel about your baby crying for hours at a time, it’s not because of you!

We also know that colic is not a genetic, or inherited, ailment. Babies with colic may or may not have a parent who suffered from colic as a baby, but there’s no evidence at all that having colic as a child means your child is more likely to have it too.

We know as well that colic is not caused by anything that might have happened during pregnancy or even during childbirth. We’ve all heard stories of those insanely long, drawn out labors (all you have to do is watch an overbearing mom in a sitcom to hear that iconic “I was in labor with you for TWENTY FIVE HOURS….”), and there can be lots of complications during pregnancy that require bedrest or special diets or emergency C-sections, but none of those things correlate to having colic. It just happens.

But what about temperament? Aren’t some babies just fussier and more likely to be crying and cranky all the time? That’s a common question, and one that lots of parents fear might apply to their own little one or ones, but the truth is that there is also no correlation between a baby’s temperament and his or her chances of developing colic. You might not notice it right away if your baby has always cried a lot, but it isn’t caused by being fussy or cranky. That’s one of the reasons it comes as such a shock to parents when their newborn, a normally peaceful, quiet babe, suddenly changes into a crying, flailing bundle of unhappiness for hours at a time. Colic is indiscriminate and democratic — any baby can have it and importantly, it’s nothing you did.

If you’d like to learn more about what might cause colic, and some of the ways to soothe it, check out our resource below!

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