Also indexed as: Abdominal Pain (Infants)
Calm your fussy baby’s colic by getting to the root of the
cause. According to research or other evidence, the following steps may offer relief for your
- Give calming herbs a try
- During colic episodes, give your infant 1/2 cup (118 ml) of a tea
made from chamomile, vervain, licorice, fennel, and lemon balm
- Find a new formula
- Cow’s milk formula may cause colic in some infants; try
switching to soy or a hypoallergenic product
- Uncover your food allergies
- If you breast-feed, work with a knowledgeable healthcare
practitioner to see if certain foods you eat may be triggering symptoms of colic in your
- Don’t let your infant “eat” air
- To prevent babies from swallowing air, feed them in the sitting
position and burp them frequently
- Consider chiropractic care
- Visit a qualified practitioner for one to five treatments to
reduce colic frequency and symptoms
These recommendations are not comprehensive and are not intended to replace
the advice of your doctor or pharmacist. Continue reading the full colic article for more
in-depth, fully-referenced information on medicines, vitamins, herbs, and dietary and
lifestyle changes that may be helpful.
Colic is a common problem in infants in which the baby is healthy but has periods of
inconsolable crying, apparently caused by abdominal pain. Colic usually develops within a few
weeks of birth and disappears by the baby’s fourth month.
Product ratings for
What are the symptoms?
Colic may cause infants, typically less than four months old, to cry inconsolably. The
attacks usually occur in the late afternoon and evening, sometimes lasting for hours. During a
colicky period, babies may bring their knees up, clench their fists, grimace, hold their
breath, and generally be more active.
Over-the-counter anti-gas medicine containing
simethicone (Mylicon) may be used to reduce pain due to excess gas.
Treatment is directed toward providing comfort for the babies until they outgrow this
difficult period. Feeding babies while they are sitting up, or burping them more frequently,
may help prevent colic if too much air is being swallowed during feedings.
Dietary changes that may be helpful
Allergies may be responsible for colic in
some infants.1 2 If the child is fed with formula, the problem may be an
intolerance to milk proteins from a
cows’ milk-based formula.3 Switching to a soy formula may ease colic in such cases.4
Infants who are sensitive to both milk and soy may be given a hypoallergenic formula
containing extensively hydrolyzed proteins. However, some children are sensitive even to these
A true food protein intolerance in infants may result in persistent distress attributed to
irritation of the esophagus caused by reflux (partial spitting up). These infants may respond
to an amino acid-based formula. In a clinical
trial, infants who were intolerant of soy and extensively hydrolyzed formula, and who had
failed to respond to various formula changes, were switched to an amino-acid formula
(Neocate).5 After two weeks, all the infants receiving the amino acid-based formula
showed less distressed behavior and fewer symptoms of reflux.
If a baby is breast-fed, certain foods in the mother’s diet may provoke an allergic
reaction in the baby. Cows’ milk consumed by a breast-feeding mother has been shown in
some,6 but not all,7 studies to trigger colic. Cows’ milk
proteins, which may trigger allergic reactions, have been found at higher levels in milk from
breast-feeding mothers with colicky infants than in milk from mothers with non-colicky
infants.8 Changing to a low-allergenic formula or restricting the mother’s
diet to exclude certain allergy-triggering
foods significantly reduced colic symptoms in the infants in one double-blind trial.
9 A healthcare provider can help determine which foods eaten by breast-feeding mothers
may be contributing to colic.
Lifestyle changes that may be helpful
All infants, particularly those with colic, need to be fed on demand and not by a specific
clock schedule. Often a baby’s cry is triggered by discomfort caused by low blood sugar. Unlike adults, infants do not have a
carefully regulated ability to maintain healthy blood sugar levels in the absence of food.
This physiological shortcoming of infants can be solved only by feeding on demand.
In one trial, parents were taught not to let babies cry unnecessarily but rather to attempt
feeding right away in response to the infant’s cry.10 If that failed, parents
were taught to try to respond to the cry in other ways, such as holding the infant or
providing the opportunity to sleep. These parents were also given the solid medical advice
that overfeeding is never caused by feeding on demand nor will the baby be
“spoiled” by such an approach. As a result of this intervention, colic was
dramatically (and statistically significantly) reduced, compared with a group of mothers given
Vitamins that may be helpful
In a double-blind study of infants, supplementation of a standard milk-based formula with
probiotic organisms (Bifidobacterium
lactis and Streptococcus thermophilus) significantly reduced the frequency of
colic, compared with the same formula without the probiotics.11
Are there any side effects or interactions?
Refer to the individual supplement for information about any side effects or interactions.
Herbs that may be helpful
Carminatives are a class of herbs commonly used for infants with colic. These herbs tend to
relax intestinal spasms.
Chamomile is a carminative with long
history of use as a calming herb and may be used to ease intestinal cramping in colicky
infants. A soothing tea made from chamomile,
vervain, licorice, fennel, and lemon balm has been shown to relieve colic more
effectively than placebo.12 In this study, approximately 1/2 cup (150 ml) of tea
was given during each colic episode up to a maximum of three times per day.
In a double-blind study of infants with colic, supplementation with an emulsion of fennel seed oil relieved colic in 65% of cases,
compared with 24% of infants receiving a placebo, a statistically significant
difference.13 The amount used was 1 to 4 teaspoons, up to four times per day, of a
water emulsion of 0.1% fennel seed oil.
Hyssop has mild sedative properties and may
also be helpful in relieving colic, but research is lacking. Though no definitive information
on hyssop supplementation is available, 1 teaspoon of hyssop herb steeped in 1 cup of
just-boiled water in a closed container for 15 to 20 minutes, then given in sips from a bottle
over a period of 2 to 3 hours may help calm colic.
Caraway, like chamomile and fennel,
relieves intestinal cramping and, in this way, may ease symptoms of colic. One tablespoon (15
grams) of caraway seed is mixed with 8 oz (240 ml) of just-boiled water and steeped in a
closed container for at least 10 minutes. Three ounces of vegetable glycerin is added, and the
resulting mixture is stored in a bottle in the refrigerator. Up to 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) of
the liquid may be given every 30 minutes to a colicky infant or given 15 minutes before
Several other gas-relieving herbs used in traditional medicine for colic are approved in
Germany for intestinal spasms.15 These include yarrow, garden angelica (Angelica
archangelica),peppermint, cinnamon, and fumitory (Fumaria officinalis).
These herbs are generally given by healthcare professionals as teas or decoctions to the
infant. Peppermint tea should be used with caution in infants and young children, as they may
choke in reaction to the strong menthol.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
Refer to the individual herb for information about any side effects or interactions.
Holistic approaches that may be helpful
The symptoms of colic may be linked to mild biomechanical disturbances of the spinal joints
and may respond to manipulation. A large, preliminary study of infants treated by chiropractic manipulation for colic reported marked
improvement, often after one treatment.16 This echoed an earlier study in which
questionnaires sent to parents of 132 infants under chiropractic care revealed that 91% of the
respondents observed improvement in their babies’ symptoms after two to three
manipulations.17 In a controlled trial, infants were treated daily for two weeks
either with a placebo medication or with a series of three to five treatments using gentle
“fingertip” spinal manipulations.18 Those treated with manipulation
experienced a 67% reduction in daily hours of colic, compared with only a 38% reduction in
infants on medication.
1. Sampson HA. Infantile colic and food allergy: fact or fiction? J
2. Hill DJ, Hosking CS, Heine RG. Clinical spectrum of food allergy in
children in Australia and South-East Asia: identification and targets for treatment. Ann
3. Lothe L, Lindberg T. Cow’s milk whey protein elicits symptoms of
infantile colic in colicky formula-fed infants: a double-blind crossover study.
4. Lothe L, Lindberg T, Jakobsson I. Cow’s milk formula as a cause
of infantile colic: a double-blind study. Pediatr 1982;70(1):7–10.
5. Hill DJ, Heine RG, Cameron DJ, et al. Role of food protein intolerance
in infants with persistent distress attributed to reflux esophagitis. J Pediatr
6. Jakobsson I, Lindberg T. Cow’s milk proteins cause infantile
colic in breast-fed infants: a double-blind crossover study. Pediatr
7. Evans RW, Fergusson DM, Allardyce RA, et al. Maternal diet and
infantile colic in breast-fed infants. Lancet 1981;49:1340–2.
8. Clyne PS, Kulczycki A. Human breast milk contains bovine IgG.
Relationship to infant colic? Pediatr 1991;87:439–44.
9. Hill DJ, Hudson IL, Sheffield LJ, et al. A low allergen diet is a
significant intervention in infantile colic: results of a community-based study. J Allergy
Clin Immunol 1995;96:886–92.
10. Taubman B. Clinical trial of the treatment of colic by modification
of parent-infant interaction. Pediatr 1984;74:998–1003.
11. Saavedra JM, Abi-Hanna A, Moore N, Yolken RH. Long-term consumption
of infant formulas containing live probiotic bacteria: tolerance and safety. Am J Clin
12. Weizman Z, Alkrinawi S, Goldfarb D, et al. Efficacy of herbal tea
preparation in infantile colic. J Pediatr 1993;122:650–2.
13. Alexandrovich I, Rakovitskaya O, Kolmo E, et al. The effect of fennel
(Foeniculum Vulgare) seed oil emulsion in infantile colic: a randomized,
placebo-controlled study. Altern Ther Health Med 2003;9:58–61.
14. Bove M. An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and
Infants. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, 1996:106.
15. Schilcher H. Phytotherapy in Paediatrics. Stuttgart:
Medpharm Scientific Publishers, 1997, 80.
16. Klugart N, Nilsson N, Jacobsen J. Infantile colic treated by
chiropractors: a prospective study of 316 cases. J Manip Physiol Ther
17. Nilsson N. Infant colic and chiropractic. Eur J Chir
18. Wiberg JM, Nordsteen J, Nilsson N. The short term effect of spinal
manipulation in the treatment of infantile colic: a randomized controlled clinical trial with
a blinded observer. J Manip Physiol Ther 1999;22:517–22.