Colic: When baby’s endless crying drives you up the wall


Episodes of crying usually peak when a baby is about six weeks old

Wednesday March 18 2020

For close to six hours, she tried to calm down her baby not knowing what to do.

They were both crying.

At six weeks, the umbilical cord had not yet healed and was bleeding. She thought this could be the cause of the crying. Ms Merceline Ouma’s baby would have episodes of crying from the time he was six weeks old until he was almost six months old. At four months, she was told her baby had colic.

“It was one of the hardest experiences of my life! I did all I could, from infant massage to placing the baby in a tub under warm water, but this did very little to calm him down,” she says.

At some point, she just let the baby cry. She was resentful towards her cranky little one, since no amount of consoling worked. This went on until baby Ivan turned six months old. “At six months, it would happen once in a while and was not as serious as it was when he was two months old. I could sleep and enjoy motherhood,” she says.


Dr Walter Otieno, a paediatrician in Western, explains that it is fine for mothers to leave their colicky babies for a short time during the episodes when they feel overwhelmed. “I know of mothers who have harmed their children just because they would not keep quiet,” he says.

Ms Ouma is not the only mother who has dealt with a colicky baby. Research shows that approximately one in five infants is affected globally. Dr Otieno explains that colic is frequent, prolonged and intense crying, more like screaming or an expression of pain or fussiness, in a healthy infant.

He says episodes of colic usually peak when an infant is about six weeks old and decline significantly after three to four months of age. “Fussing and crying are normal for infants, especially during the first three months. However, babies outgrow the crying,” he says.

Apart from the unrelenting crying, he says, for babies with extreme colic, their faces can redden, can have bodily tension including stiffened legs and arms, clenched fists and arched back or tense abdomen. “The crying associated with colic usually happens at a specific time of the day, usually in the evenings. But in some cases, this may be between 6pm and midnight,” he tells the HealthyNation.

Asked what causes it, he says there is no known cause. However, there are several theories on what causes colic including gastro-esophageal reflux where a child repeatedly brings up food, overfeeding, underfeeding, milk protein allergy, and early introduction of solids. Other causes include inadequate burping after feeding, as well as incorrect positioning after feeding.

“But, it is difficult to tell why some infants do not experience it while in others it happens at certain times of the day and why it resolves on its own in time,” says Dr Otieno. “Girls are normally affected more than the boys. When a baby is born preterm, is a girl and fed on formula, she suffers more but some cases boys also suffer.”

Infants born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy or after delivery also have an increased risk of developing colic.


Even though colic has no impact on the child even if they cry, it is stressful for parents. Research shows an association between colic and increased risk of post-partum depression in mothers, early termination of breast-feeding and feelings of guilt, exhaustion, helplessness or anger.

There is no known cure for colic, though there are many proposed remedies. “There are drugs given by doctors to calm them down. However, at some point, the drugs don’t work,” he says.

Mothers should check with lactation experts should the crying and symptoms persist since a baby could be having a poor latch or she/he could be tongue-tied, causing major colic symptoms.

“Mothers should be sure that their babies are getting enough hindmilk, which is higher in fat. It calms the stomach, helps with digestion, and promotes satiety. If your baby’s poop is greenish, this is usually a sign that he’s getting too much foremilk, which can cause digestive distress hence colic,” advises Dr Otieno.

If a baby is formula-fed and reacting to it, the mother should consider giving cow milk instead.

Breastfeeding mothers also need to consider diets free from peanuts, caffeine, wheat, soy and other foods that are likely to lead to allergies in babies, which may exacerbate the colic.

“The baby should be held in an upright position to help move gas out of the body and reduce heartburn. When the baby starts crying, place a bottle of warm water on his/her stomach. Massaging their stomach can also reduce the pain,” says Dr Otieno.