Colic – is it reflux, gas or an over-sensitive baby?

Colic – is it reflux, gas or an over-sensitive baby?

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The “C” word in baby circles.  It brings terror to the hearts of parents everywhere.  But what exactly does “colic” mean? Colic is actually defined as excessive crying: an otherwise healthy and well-fed infant who cries more than three hours daily more than three days a week for more than three weeks.  However, the term is thrown around loosely, and often implies tummy aches.  Regardless of the definition, if your baby, or a baby you know, cries even close to that amount, you may want to read on.

Here are the medical facts about colic:

  • birth order does not affect colic
  • method of feeding does not affect colic (breast or bottle)
  • it usually starts around 2 weeks of age and subsides around 3 to 4 months of age
  • gender is not a factor
  • older kids who had colic as babies are no different from those who did not

Here are the sociological facts about colic:

  • it is heart-wrenching to watch your baby cry that much
  • it is extremely difficult to maintain patience with a baby who cries that much
  • parenting a colicky baby may cause loss of emotional control by the parent – for help with frustration, click here

Here are possible explanations for all that crying:

  • abdominal pain due to gas
  • abdominal pain due to reflux / GER(D) – click here for more information
  • abdominal pain due to an immature gastrointestinal tract
  • abdominal pain due to a reaction to something mom is eating (if breastfed) or something in the formula
  • abdominal pain due to hormones
  • normal developmental stage
  • fussiness due to hormones
  • over-sensitivity to stimuli
  • immature nervous system

Most importantly, let’s discuss treatment approaches.  FIRST, schedule a visit with baby’s provider to rule out infection, eye problems, and other acute medical causes for crying and discomfort.  You do not want to miss an acute condition.  Once the diagnosis of colic has been made, your provider will ideally suggest some things to try.

The next step is to try to determine WHY baby is crying so much.  Is it gas?  Is it reflux?  Is it over-sensitivity?  Determining the underlying issue (tolle causem – one of the principles of naturopathic medicine) will inform your approach to treatment.

So how do you figure out the cause?  The guidance of a health care provider goes a long way here, but this should get you started.  Also, keep in mind that your baby may have more than one underlying cause.

Gassy babies:

  • seem relieved when they burp or pass flatus
  • must be burped after every feeding
  • have a lot of gas, but may need help passing it
  • will likely be sensitive to foods like beans, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower in mom’s diet (if nursing)
  • if bottle fed, may benefit from a slower flow nipple
  • will likely be helped by bicycling the legs to encourage passing flatus and by frequent burpings
  • may improve, temporarily, with warmth to the belly area
  • will likely improve with carminative herbs such as chammomile, fennel, ginger, and dill (all ingredients in Gripe Water) (NOTE: do not administer Gripe Water or herbs in any form to your baby without the guidance of a health care provider)
  • will likely improve with Craniosacral Therapy
  • may improve with baby wearing

Babies with reflux:

  • may worsen with carminative herbs and Gripe Water
  • arch the back and stiffen when uncomfortable
  • are often reacting poorly to a food mom is eating (if breastfed) such as coffee or chocolate
  • are better when fed upright and left upright for 30 minutes after a feed
  • see my reflux article here for much more information
  • will likely improve with Craniosacral Therapy
  • will most likely be better, at least temporarily, with baby wearing

Over-sensitive babies:

  • this should be a diagnosis you consider after ruling out gas and reflux
  • do better with low lighting
  • do better with low noise levels
  • do better around calm people, and may struggle around high-energy or anxious people
  • may or may not like white noise and / or soft music
  • may do better swaddled and with a pacifier
  • may like warm baths
  • may like infant massage
  • may like an infant swing
  • will very likely respond well and quickly to Craniosacral Therapy
  • will very likely respond well and quickly to a constitutional homeopathic remedy
  • will likely be better with baby wearing

DO NOT DESPAIR.  If you are unable to determine the cause of your baby’s tears, and unable to find anything that helps, even a little, DO NOT DESPAIR.  As mentioned above, older kids who had colic as babies are no different from kids who did not, AND, babies usually outgrow colic by around three to four months of age.  You have done your due diligence, and there is NOTHING that you are doing wrong.  You are still a GOOD PARENT.  Wear your baby as much as possible, but give yourself breaks as needed.  When you start to feel frustrated, put baby in a safe place and go to another room.  Meditate, count to 20, sing a song, listen to a song; do what causes you to relax and regain perspective.  Do this as often as you need throughout the day and night.  Always, always, breathe, and repeat the mantra, “my baby is okay.”  And never forget, “this too shall pass.”

More resources:

Purple Crying


Teresa Neff

Dr. Teresa specializes in pediatric and adolescent medicine and women’s health. After earning her doctorate from Bastyr University, she spent over two years at The Kids Clinic, in north Seattle, first as a medical resident, and then as a staff physician. At The Kids Clinic, she became comfortable managing urgent acute matters as well as chronic health concerns. Dr. Teresa loves combining her life long love of teaching children with her passion for natural medicine. As a primary care provider, she offers well child exams, well woman exams, sports physicals, lab studies, vaccines and vaccine education. In addition, she uses the various tools of naturopathic medicine, including Craniosacral Therapy, Visceral Manipulation, and Classical Homeopathy, among others, to build healthy foundations and to promote health and empower her patients. Dr. Teresa also studied breastfeeding and lactation with the Simkin Center and holds a certificate as a Certified Lactation Educator (CLE). Having experienced the struggles and the joys of breastfeeding herself, she is happy to help moms establish or continue breastfeeding. Dr. Teresa sees patients at Seattle Nature Cure Clinic in Seattle, Washington. <a href="">Schedule an appointment with Dr. Neff in Seattle, Washington</a>


  • Dr. Erika Krumbeck
    Dr. Erika Krumbeck
    March 13, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    Teresa, I’m so glad that you wrote this article. I only wish I had read it when I had Annika 3 years ago! I think I still have PTSD from that experience. It took us 3.5 months to realize it was silent reflux. I really wish I had figured it out earlier…

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