young family with new baby

Colic, Crying or Fussiness


Come dusk, you don’t see many mothers of newborns out running errands. Because, as the day winds down, most newborns experience an “evening fussy period.” During this time, which can vary in duration from approximately 30 minutes to several hours, babies cry often with impressive zeal and volume. But for parents of colicky babies, the crying can be truly unnerving. 

The terms “colicky” and “fussy” are sometimes used interchangeably by the uninitiated. But, colic is a specific condition that pediatricians identify by asking parents about the frequency and duration of their baby’s crying. Doctors typically follow what’s known as “the rule of three” in babies that are healthy and eating well:

  • The crying lasts at least three hours;
  • The episodes occur at least three times per week; and
  • The crying pattern lasts for at least three weeks.

What Causes Colic?

baby snuggling on his mother's chest

Doctors believe colic is caused by painful spasms and/or cramping in baby’s still-developing gastrointestinal tract. Certain foods in mom’s diet (if she’s nursing), may contribute to the discomfort. Pediatricians may advise mothers to avoid eating broccoli, onions, garlic and legumes, as these may increase gas in baby’s belly. Some mothers may also eliminate foods such as dairy or soy.

According to the National Institute of Health, colic affects one in five infants. The vociferous crying typically starts around 2–4 weeks of age and lasts until approximately 4 months old.


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Is There a Cure for Colic?

Although there’s no known cure for colic, it’s not a permanent condition. In the meantime, parents are encouraged to use the following coping strategies:

Call in the troops. Do you have local family members or friends to lend a hand? Now’s the time to enlist their help to care for older children, clean the house or prepare meals so you can focus on soothing baby.

Establish a routine. Colic can make you feel like your life’s been turned upside-down. Take back some control by implementing an action plan. What time does your baby usually start crying? A half-hour beforehand, get yourself ready. Clear a space on your bed and prop up some pillows. Gather supplies you need for nursing and diapering, and put them within arm’s reach. Get yourself a glass of water and a snack for the nightstand, and put your phone on mute. Dim the lights and close the blinds to create a calm, non-stimulating environment to help baby relax. You’re his greatest source of comfort, so hold him close.

Stick with it. Switching from rocking and swaddling to walking and bouncing may overstimulate baby when he’s already overwrought. Choose one modality, and give it a chance to work before branching out.

Babies absorb maternal stress. If you can stay calm, it will help your newborn relax.

Colic isn’t your fault. It’s hard, but try to center yourself with deep breaths. Babies absorb maternal stress. If you can stay calm, it will help your newborn relax. Put baby in his crib for a few minutes if you’re hitting your limit. Sometimes taking care of baby means taking a few minutes to care for yourself. 

More parenting advice and information can always be found in the Family Health section of our website.


WHITNEY WOOLLERTON MORRILL is an architect who designs and writes for families. Her blog is

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