It is perfectly normal for infants to develop colic, which is a catch-all term for a set of behaviors that includes exercising their lungs for at least three hours at a time like they’re auditioning for a role in Phantom of the Opera, occurs three times a week and lasts three weeks in a row.
What To Expect notes that scientists are not quite sure what causes colic in infants, but they know that colic has nothing to do with one’s parenting skills or family history. It is clear, however, that for each child, the cause is likely to be different.
According to my parents, I was a colicky infant and the only thing that soothed me was being put in my car seat and going for a long drive around the neighborhood.
Other infants might become colicky due to a potential link to early migraines or plain ole overstimulation because the world is new for them and it can feel like sensory overload for them if their parents do too much, too soon.
For mothers of colicky babies that are trying to figure out what could be causing the little one to feel some discomfort, the following list explores the different causes of this baffling set of newborn behaviors.
Let's start with the 10 reasons that colic can't be helped...
20 Possible Food Intolerances Or Allergies
Food allergies are definitely not fun to deal with, but at least with older children and adults, if they eat something a bit dodgy they can tell a relative or a doctor that they ate such-and-such and started to feel a bit itchy.
What To Expect adds that there are some experts out there that believe colic can be caused in part by food allergies in bottle-fed infants, such as lactose intolerance or even a sensitivity to a food that mom had before she fed her little one. Whatever is causing the food allergy or intolerance, this can lead to stomach irritation that induces colic in an infant.
19 They're Feeling Hungry
Infants haven’t developed the language skills that they need in order to communicate their wants and wishes just yet, so the only thing they can really do in order to express what they are feeling is exercise their lungs for the entire world to marvel at.
Very Well Family notes that if a colicky baby refuses to be soothed, there is a chance that they’re feeling hungry and their empty stomach is causing them to feel a spot of discomfort. It doesn’t matter if you’re bottle-feeding or going the natural method, it’s worth a try to feed your little one and see if that helps calm them down.
18 Your Child Isn't As Active
Parents notes that it is possible that colicky behavior could be caused in part by your infant being too sedentary and staying in one spot. It is worth a shot to move them around a bit more, such as exaggerated swinging or rocking as you walk around the house or apartment.
You can even put them in the stroller or baby carrier and take them out for a nice quiet walk in the neighborhood too. When I was a colicky infant, my parents got me to go to sleep by strapping me into the car seat and taking me for a drive around the neighborhood. Apparently by the time they were done, I was sound asleep in the backseat.
17 It Could Be An Early Form Of Migraine
Very Well Family adds that there is some scientific research that hinted colic could actually be an early form of migraine, which is something that I find completely fascinating because I have vestibular migraines that developed when I was an adult and I was a very colicky baby, according to my parents.
The study that took places a few years ago showed that there was a strong association between colic in infants and children and adults that wind up growing up and developing migraines, although scientists aren’t sure if this means that colic’s an early form of migraine or if there’s something else going on.
16 They Have Too Much Serotonin In Their System
Parents writes that another theory about what might be causing colic is that an infant has an imbalance between their serotonin and the melatonin levels.
The theory goes that if an infant has too much serotonin in their body, it can cause their intestines to contract and thus cause a feeling of discomfort. Too much serotonin also explains why colicky babies tend to become a bit more fussy at night—the time when these levels typically peak. Once infants start producing their own melatonin at around three or four months old, that’s usually when the colic starts to fade away.
15 Your Infant's Nervous System Is Still Developing
What To Expect adds that some experts believe that colic can happen because an infant’s nervous system is still developing and that is why it is best to limit colicky babies’ exposure to new stimuli to the mornings, since the late afternoons and early evenings is when most of the episodes seem to occur for most little ones.
You can also try limiting the amount of visitors that you have over and keeping the lights in the nursery room dim or even playing soothing music, like that popular Baby Shark song that my boyfriend’s nephew listens to almost every day.
14 Not Used To Normal Circadian Rhythms
Parenting Science points out that colic in infants may develop due to the fact that their circadian rhythms haven’t fully developed just yet. As was mentioned earlier in this list, infants don’t usually produce much, if any, melatonin (a chemical in our bodies which helps humans fall asleep) until they hit the age of three or four months.
Add in the fact that this world is still entirely brand new to them and babies in general often don’t sleep as well as older children and adults, then it is no wonder why they are so reactive and exercising their lung power every other second of the day and night.
13 Your Infant Is Saying Too Much, Too Soon
What To Expect writes that another reason why some babies wind up becoming colicky is due to the fact that they’re trying to figure out this brand new world and they’re really overstimulated because it’s too much, too soon.
It also doesn’t help that the biological mechanism that newborns use to tune out sights and sounds when they eat or sleep tends to fade away after the first month or so, which makes your son or daughter way more sensitive to their environment. Since they can’t tell their parents that it’s way too much for them at this moment, they turn on the waterworks to vocalize their feelings and make themselves feel better.
12 Their Digestive System Is Brand New
I certainly can’t speak for anyone else, but I know if I come down with a stomach bug, even the day after I feel better I tend to take it slow because my stomach is still tender and I don’t want to get my digestive system all up in arms because I went too fast.
What To Expect adds that the same principle is true for babies with colic. Since infants in general have a brand new digestive system, there are still some quirks to smooth out when it comes to digesting food and if it the food isn’t in small enough particles or the process goes too quickly, it could cause gas in the intestines.
11 Infant GERD
According to What To Expect, research suggests that infant GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) could be one of the reasons why some little ones wind up developing colic.
Infant GERD can occur if the muscle that keeps the stomach juices from flowing back up the wrong way is a bit underdeveloped. If your little one has GERD, you might notice them spitting up more than their peers or being rather irritable pre and post eating. Thankfully, much like colic, infant GERD tends to go away on its own and fully disappears by the time your little one hits the one year mark.
And here are the 10 ways mom may be causing colic...
10 The Food Mom Cooks For Herself
What To Expect notes that breastfeeding moms should take note of the kinds of meals they have been eating and try to see if they have any ingredients that have been known to cause tummy issues in both mothers and their children.
The following items should always be run by a doctor before using them in a meal: acidic citrus fruits such as oranges, cruciferous vegetables (this includes things like cabbage and cauliflower), and allergenic foods such as tree nuts, fish, dairy, soy, wheat, eggs and peanut until the cause of the colic has been safely identified and the little one is much less cranky.
9 Getting Too Much Foremilk
Very Well Family points out that if a breastfeeding baby is showing signs of colic, it could be due to a foremilk-hindmilk imbalance. Foremilk is the thinner milk that flows from the mother at the beginning of the feeding and contains more lactose. Hindmilk is the heavier milk that is created as the feeding continues and it is far more filling for the infant.
If there is an oversupply of foremilk, this could cause an imbalance that is behind the colicky baby’s moods and near-constant attempts to tell his or her mother that they aren’t feeling too peachy at this exact moment.
8 Your Child Needs More Attention
If you are feeling like you are at your wit’s end because you’re so tired from taking care of a baby with colic, American Pregnancy notes that the reason why your little one is having so much discomfort at the moment could be due to the fact that your child has a bit more of a sensitive temperament and needs more attention from his or her mother.
Mom should try giving their infant more attention by snuggling them and trying to relieve any potential gas issues by pressing a gentle hand onto their abdomen. Even if it doesn’t entirely relieve the colic, a gentle touch will definitely help soothe your infant.
7 Intolerance Of Proteins In Their Baby Formula
What To Expect adds that another cause of colic in bottle-fed babies could be that your infant has some kind of intolerance to the proteins found in their formula.
One way to see if the colic eases up is by swapping the standard kind of formula that can be found in local grocery stores for formula that is specifically created to cater to infants with a sensitive stomach or one that doesn’t have any trace of cow milk in the ingredients list. Just make sure to discuss the formula switch with your child’s pediatrician before you change what you feed them.
6 Feeding Your Infant Way Too Fast
Much like how some dog breeds are prone to developing stomach issues if they eat their food so fast that it appears as if they have it in one long inhale and wind up needing something like an elevated food bowl or even a slow feeder dish to chow down on their meals, American Pregnancy writes that one theory about what causes colic is that it can occur when babies have too much milk far too quickly.
Regardless of whether you are breastfeeding your child or giving them formula, it is worth a shot to slow down during the feedings and see if that helps to soothe them.
5 Letting Your Baby Overeat
American Pregnancy adds that another theory about why colic can occur in infants is that it is a byproduct of the little one overindulging on either their mother’s milk or their bottle of formula.
It is possible that much like how we can sometimes feel as if there’s a giant boulder in our stomachs after enjoying a delicious holiday meal filled with all of our favorite treats and we can be a bit grumpy until it all digests, colicky babies are actually feeling grumpy because they overfed and have no other way of expressing this fact to their mothers, since they can’t talk just yet.
4 Forgetting To Burp Your Baby After They Eat
Very Well Family points out that some doctors think that colicky babies could be feeling a bit upset because they aren’t being burped enough and there is too much air in their stomachs—especially if they are breastfeeding.
Since infants that are breastfed don’t take in as much air when they’re being fed as their formula-fed counterparts, some moms might not burp them after they’re done eating but there’s always a chance that your little one is taking in too much air for one reason or another (such as an overabundance of milk) and they need it to be expelled more often.
3 Incorrect Feeding Positions
American Pregnancy adds that another reason for colicky babies could be due to incorrect feeding positions during meal times. Parents add that for bottle-feeding babies, it is best to cradle your son or daughter in the crook of your arm or have them sit on your lap while they eat.
Pampers adds that for breastfeeding moms, you can also cradle your infant as they feed or try the “football hold” in which you hold your little one beside you with a bent elbow and supporting their head with an open hand so that their back will rest on your forearm.
2 High Cortisol Levels While Pregnant
Calming Colic points out that some recent research has hinted that women that have a higher level of cortisol in their systems when they are pregnant are more likely to either have babies that wind up developing colic or developing symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Since everyone—adults and babies included—has a variety of “good” and “not-so-good” bacteria, scientists found by taking stool samples from the infants and saliva tests from their mothers that moms that were constantly fretting when they were pregnant (and thus high cortisol levels) had children that had more of the “not-so-good” bacteria in their stomachs.
1 Not Taking Enough Probiotics During The Pregnancy
What To Expect notes that colic can occur in infants whose mothers that didn’t take enough probiotics during their pregnancy.
There are plenty of probiotics on the market that range from being helpful when it comes to warding off certain conditions that cause major itching to items that help keep your digestive tract flowing smoothly and might even help things like the stomach bugs at bay during the wintertime too, but it’s best to take one that has a generous portion of Lactobacillus reuteri.