Colic Symptoms

Although all babies cry, those with colic show different symptoms than a baby without it. For instance, a baby with colic will cry for more than three hours a day, more than three times a week for more than three weeks. Colic signs and symptoms can include louder and more intense crying than normal, an inability to be soothed, and increased muscle tone.

Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Colic

There is no definition for colic that all healthcare providers agree upon. However, the term is often used to describe persistent and excessive crying for no apparent reason during the first three months of life.
 
Yet all babies cry. And they cry more during their first three months of life than at any other time. So how does colic differ from these normal episodes of crying that are so common with infants?
 

Defining Infant Colic

Healthcare providers often go by the "rule of three" when talking about signs and symptoms of colic. This definition is known as the Wessel criteria, and defines colic as:
 
  • Crying that lasts more than three hours per day
  • Occurs more than three times a week
  • Lasts for more than three weeks.
     
It also requires that the infant be well fed and otherwise healthy.
 
For practical purposes, healthcare providers often drop the three-week requirement because parents cannot usually wait that long before seeking advice.
 

Is This a Normal Crying Episode or Is It Colic?

Research studies have shown that the amount of "normal crying" during the first three months of life can range from about 40 minutes to 2 hours per day. A baby with colic cries for longer periods and more often than a baby without colic does.
 
Other differences between a "normal" crying episode and colic include:
 
  • The crying has a distinct beginning and end
  • The crying is louder and more intense
  • The infant cannot be soothed
  • The infant has increased muscle tone.
Written by/reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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