We know that the well-being of your little one is a top priority. Any signs of discomfort or irritability from your baby can be alarming and lead to feelings of anxiety. During your little one's formative first few years, there may be some hurdles in the way, as their bodies adjust, grow and develop.
One of these potential hurdles is colic, and for parents who have dealt with a colicky baby, it can no doubt be alarming. The good news is, babies will eventually outgrow colic (likely by 4 months) and it is overall quite common, affecting up to 1 in 4 babies.
If you are hoping to learn more about the signs, causes, ways to manage colic, and baby formulas that may help relieve colic, this article is for you!
Colic usually begins when a baby is 2-5 weeks but can occur anytime between 2 weeks to 4 months. It is completely normal for healthy babies to cry for a number of reasons, but colic is a little different.
It can be defined as sudden bouts of fussing or crying, which last 3 hours per day, 3 days per week in any one-week period. These bouts of crying often occur without obvious reason and are difficult to avoid or resolve. Infants experiencing colic are often described as being "unsoothable", which can make these episodes especially hard on parents.
There are specific characteristics and colic symptoms to look out for that may help determine if your baby is colicky.
A baby's colic symptoms include:
A flushed face
Tensing of the abdomen
Drawing up the legs
Red Flags to Look Out For
A few key indicators suggest that your baby's discomfort or irritability may be caused by something other than colic. In this case, it is best to consult your pediatrician with any questions or concerns you may have about your little one's symptoms.
Some red flags to look out for are:
Colic symptoms persisting past 5 months
Frequent vomiting or diarrhea
Not gaining weight appropriately (check with your pediatrician)
Fever or illness
Family history of atopy (asthma, eczema, etc...)
Causes of Colic in Babies
There are a number of factors that can cause a colicky baby and contribute to crying and irritability. Many of these factors resolve on their own as your baby ages and makes developmental progression, although some of these causes may need intervention and management to help soothe discomfort.
In most cases, colic is not a cause for major concern, and studies have shown that less than 5% of babies experiencing colic have a serious illness as the cause. The likelihood of a baby's colic being associated with a serious underlying condition is very low and in most cases is caused by one of the following factors:
Excessive intestinal gas:
This level of gas can be caused by bacterial fermentation due to intestinal immaturity in newborns. This is completely normal in young infants as their bodies are still developing and getting used to feeding.
Although sometimes lactose intolerance does persist, many babies younger than 3 months deal with it temporarily as their gut adapts. It is an enzyme insufficiency that causes malabsorption, and once the lactase enzyme expression is increased in the gut, the lactose intolerance (and colic) will likely resolve on its own.
Alteration of the microbiota:
A newborn's gut is immature and delicate. Any sort of imbalance and lack of healthy gut bacteria can cause colic.
Any gut movements during digestion can cause discomfort, which is amplified by a baby's immature gut. This is completely normal, and, in this case, it is caused by the gut hormones that regulate bowel movements.
Cow’s milk protein intolerance:
Many babies grow out of dietary sensitivities, which may apply to cow's milk protein intolerance. Symptoms often include digestive discomforts such as bloating, excessive gas, or diarrhea.
GERD (Acid reflux disease):
Acid reflux can cause crying, irritability, and restlessness, which can also be seen in colicky babies. Other symptoms of GERD in infants are abnormal movements of the neck and chin, problems with eating such as loss of appetite, choking, gagging, problems swallowing, and wheezing.
Stress and anxiety are known to not only affect one's mental state but can also manifest into physical symptoms. Stress related to family, maternal anxiety, or overall tensions may result in a colicky infant.
Can Baby Formula Help With Colic?
There is no cure for colic, although certain studies have concluded that formula-fed babies are more likely to experience colic than breastfed babies. If possible, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, recommend that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life and that breastfeeding continues past that period along with the introduction of appropriate foods.
We understand that there are many cases where this would not be possible, and in these cases, then using baby formula is a suitable alternative. If your baby suffers from colic, there are several remedies to try that may offer relief, such as swaddling, rocking, rhythmic noise and vibration, car rides, or choosing an infant formula suitable for babies with colic.
There are some great infant formulas on the market that might make digestion easier on a baby's immature digestive system. If you do decide to switch formulas, make sure to do so per your pediatrician's guidelines and recommendations, as switching formulas too quickly or frequently may cause additional discomfort.
Here is some of the best formula for colic relief!
Best Baby Formula for Colic
We chose some of the best organic baby formulas as our top baby formulas for colic. These formulas are not necessarily made for colicky babies specifically but may offer some relief due to their ingredients and overall formulation.
These products are formulated with organic skim milk that has been broken down through a process called hydrolyzation.
By removing complex milk casein proteins, what's left behind is a smaller, more digestible hydrolyzed whey protein which paired with a reduced lactose content may reduce gastrointestinal symptoms and crying in babies.
It should be noted that HiPP HA is only partially hydrolyzed and thus may not be suitable for babies with a cow's milk protein allergy.
This infant formula is made with goat's milk, which compared to cow's milk is more quickly and completely digested by babies. It is formulated with A2 goat milk protein which is composed of smaller fat molecules and less lactose. Easier-to-digest proteins, such as those present in goat's milk formula can help alleviate colic.
This gentle formula is one of the best baby formulas for colic, as it is easy on a baby's tummy. It is also made with goat's milk and thus is more quickly and completely digested by babies.
HiPP's formula is made to mimic breastmilk, including containing the natural benefits of human milk, making it a great alternative when breastmilk is not an option. Like breastmilk, HiPP’s formula contains prebiotics which help to promote a healthy digestive system, improve bowel movements and reduce colic.
Dealing with colic can be a challenge, both for parents and babies! Even though colic typically resolves by 4 months, it is beneficial to have some tools to guide you through difficult periods that may be uncomfortable for babies and anxiety-inducing for parents. Turning to infant formula to help with colic along with other techniques for managing colic can help alleviate some of the stress and discomfort.
Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.
Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.
Agustina Fernandez is a medical doctor, who graduated from Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, in Argentina. She has experience working in an emergency room of a public hospital, where she helped many patients with urgent diseases. However, her true passion are children and she is planning on doing her specialization degree in Pediatrics soon. In the past year, she has become interested in researching about infant nutrition, including breastfeeding, infant formula and food in the first years of little ones' lives.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University.
Dr. Hsu did research in MRI neuroimaging research of fetal brains at Boston Children’s Hospital, an affiliated hospital of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hsu is currently a full-time medical writer and consultant.
Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel