WHAT’S COLIC PAIN – A COMPLETE GUIDE; know why it happens

One thing that infamously keeps parents awake at night is ‘colic’. It is the number one cause of parental anxiousness and distress. Every new parent at some point in time starts googling about “What’s colic pain and why colic happens in a baby“ .


In lay man’s language, colic is a loud, excessive and inconsolable cry in an otherwise healthy and well thriving newborn. It is neither a hunger cry nor associated with need of diaper change. 

Medical definition of colic

In medical terms colic by definition follows ‘rule of 3’. As stated by this rule, when a healthy baby cries for


  1. More than 3 hours a day
  2. For more than 3 days a week 
  3. For more than 3 weeks 


then it is said to be colic. 

When to suspect colic ?


When a baby cries, there could be several reasons behind it. The details of why baby cries excessively is laid out separately in another article. 

Few day to day causes of excess cry in a baby are 

  • hunger cry, 
  • need for diaper change after baby pees or passes stool
  • demand for attention / holding the baby in arms 

Even after giving feeding and changing diapers or holding the baby, if baby still cries ceaselessly, then colic could be one of the reasons. 



What is the typical appearance of a baby in colic ?


Colic is just a normal developmental process for a baby. Just like other growth and development that goes on in a child, it is too a part and of this process. Though definite cause of colic is not yet established, here are some contributing causes. 

1.Immature gut

Primary cause of colic known till date is immature gut and digestive system in babies. As baby grows and gut matures colic goes away. Around what age it happens, is discussed in a separate article – “When does colic go away?”

2.Swallowing of air

Babies oftentimes swallow some amount of air while feeding. This air while passing through gut causes spasms. Hence colic pain ensues.

3.Immature nervous system

Babies are neurologically immature. They are not well adjusted to surroundings. When they encounter sensory stimuli like bright light or loud noise they react to it by crying. 

4.Changed bacterial micro flora in gut

Our gut has some friendly bacteria. These are collectively called as gut microflora. There are numerous benefits of gut flora. It not only guards a human from diseases but also synthesise some beneficial products inside body. Studies have shown that babies who develop colic have altered gut flora. 

5.Unhygienic practices

Babies are sensitive. Hence hygiene and sanitisation is utmost important for them. 

If baby is given formula then containers should be boiled and sterilised daily. Boiled and cooked water should be used to prepare milk. Dilution of milk must be proper as per instructions. Baby should be given fresh milk, maximum within 1 hour of preparation. 


*Mother’s milk is the best for a baby.


If these practices are not followed, then this may instigate colic pain.

6.Cow milk and milk product intolerance

A double blind ( unbiased ) study was done on breast fed babies having colic pain. Mothers were having cow milk as part of their diet. 

It was observed that for few babies colic disappeared when mother stopped taking cow milk. On reintroduction of cow milk, these babies again had excessive flatulence and colic. But these outcomes were noticed only for some babies, and not for all. 


If you are unsure, then withdraw cow milk or related products for 1 week from mother’s diet and observe if colic settles. If there is no correlation of colic to cow milk intake in mother, then reintroduce it. 

Now let’s speak briefly of formula fed babies. More than 80% of all commercially available formula are cow milk based. Here cow milk is treated in such a way that its protein becomes easily digestible for a baby. Further its composition is reformed such as to make it more like breast milk. Still few babies can not tolerate it and then develop colic.

Replacing cow milk based formula with soy protein based formula doesn’t mitigate colic. However Protein hydrolyse formula might help. 



It is crucial to note that, all these correlations made between mother taking cow milk and breast fed baby developing colic is ‘probable’ and not yet ‘proven’. Because the sample size of all these studies were too small to prove or refute anything. Future awaits larger unbiased studies. 

7.Allergy to certain food stuff

If there is strong family history of allergy, sometimes nuts, eggs etc in mother’s diet can cause colic pain in babies. This is a possibility, although is extremely rare. 

In case of suspicion, eliminate one food stuff and observe for few days if colic subsides. If not, then reintroduce it in mother’s diet. Do this for suspected food items one by one. Nutrition of mother must be taken care of always.

Some propose that caffeine in coffee or chocolate, nuts and some cruciferous vegetables in mother’s diet like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage can cause colic in baby. Howbeit, there is no strong evidence to support it. So again the association between these food stuffs and colic is weak. 

8.Reflux of milk

Babies’ stomach and nervous system are not mature enough. So milk keeps on coming up to mouth. This may cause discomfort bring about colic pain.



When a baby suffers from colic there is this inherent urge to find connection between mother’s diet and colic pain. But honest truth is , in most of the cases they are not related at all. 


Prevailing causes of colic are immature gut and swallowing of air. Milk intolerance, Allergy or reflux are quite rare. So parents need not restrict diet of a mother and deprive her of necessary nutrients. Just understand that colic is a normal neuro-developmental phenomenon for baby and will go away with time. 



Finding ways to soothe baby to relieve colic pain and consulting a paediatrician, is important. 

Comment below your queries and concerns regarding colic pain in babies. Share this article with new parents you know. 


All the informations provided here are for educational and awareness purpose only. Kindly do not use these as alternative to medical consultation.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *