Baby colic and cry

Me, trying to calm down my daughter

Let’s start from the basics: babies cry. It’s their (only) way to communicate.

The evening crying of infants is usually associated with colic. In a paper of 1954 Dr. Wessel defined “colic” the crying of babies with the 3-rule: for more then 3 hours, for more then 3 days a week, for more then 3 weeks in a raw.

Medically speaking colic are caused by the rapid distension of the abdominal wall due to transit of air bubbles. The causes are not completed uncovered, but the possible triggering effects are:

  • lactose intolerance
  • excessive air swallowing
  • unbalanced microbiota
  • hormonal imbalance (e.g. motilin, which regulates the intestinal activity)

This period of evening crying usually happens between the third week and the third month of life. Even if the crying tests the parents’ patience, it is a signal of physiological development useful for children.

Wolke and collaborators published in 2017 a systematic review on fussing and crying duration in babies. On average, the mean cry was 117-133 minutes in the first 6 weeks and dropped to 68 minutes by 10-12 weeks. What is interesting is that not in every country the duration of the crying is the same, or at least similar. Children raised in Denmark and Japan show lower crying duration and a lower incidence of colic.

On hundreds of babies only a few actually suffer from colic, most of them are just crying babies. Why? Maybe they are tired, or hungry, or wet, or cold, or they just want to be cuddled.

What strategies can be helpful with a crying baby?

  • Skin-to-skin contact
  • Talking with a deep, reassuring voice
  • Massage
  • Reduce visual and auditory stimuli
  • Walk
  • Lavender bath oil
  • Behavioral approach

In 2002 Sleep and collaborators published the results of an interesting study about sleeping strategies. UK mothers of 610 children where divided intro three groups: behavioral policy, educational intervention and existing services. Mothers in the behavioral group were asked to feed their children between 10 pm and 12 am, try bot to rock, hold or feed babies to sleep, after three weeks to lengthen the interval between night feeds by resettling baby without feeding. Mothers in the educational group were given an 11 page information booklet. Mothers in the control group received the standard community services. Results show that there is no completely right or wrong way to care for babies in the early weeks. The application of a behavioral routine, though, could lead to an improvement of number of nights per week in which babies sleep for 5 hours.

Field et al. published in 2008 the results of a study in which they asked mothers to give bath to their children with or without lavender-scented bath oil. The mothers in the lavender bath oil group were more relaxed and their babies cried less and spent more time in deep sleep after bath.


  • Field et al., “Lavender bath oil reduces stress and crying and enhances sleep in very young infants”, Early Human Development, 2008, 84:399-401,
  • Sleep et al., “A randomized controlled trial to compare alternative strategies for preventing infant crying and sleep problems in the first 12 weeks: the COSI study”, Primary Health Care Research and Development, 2002, 3:176-183,
  • Wessel et al., “Paroxysmal fussing in infancy, sometimes called “colic””, Pediatrics, 1954, 14:421-435
  • Wolke et al., “Systematic review and meta-analysis: fussing and crying durations and prevalence of colic in infants”, The journal of pediatrics, 2017, 185:55-61,

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