Is it Colic or Gas?

Posted by Katherine Rickard on

As a new parent, deciphering your baby's cries and discomfort can feel like solving a complex puzzle. One common challenge many parents face is distinguishing between colic and gas, two conditions that can cause significant distress for infants. In this in-depth guide, we'll explore the differences between colic and gas, delve into their potential causes, and provide strategies to help ease your baby's discomfort.

Understanding Colic:

Colic is a term used to describe excessive, unexplained crying in otherwise healthy infants. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), colic is defined as crying for more than three hours a day, three days a week, for at least three weeks in a row. While the exact cause of colic remains unknown, it is believed to be related to gastrointestinal discomfort or immature digestive systems in babies.

Identifying the Signs of Colic:

Colic often presents with distinct signs and symptoms, including:

  • Excessive Crying: Babies with colic may cry inconsolably for extended periods, often without an apparent trigger.
  • Crying Patterns: Colic typically follows a predictable pattern, with crying bouts occurring at around the same time each day, often in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Fussiness: Babies with colic may exhibit increased fussiness and irritability between crying episodes.
  • Difficulty Soothing:*Despite attempts to comfort them, babies with colic may remain unsettled and difficult to soothe.

Understanding Gas in Babies:

Gas is a natural byproduct of the digestive process, but excessive gas buildup in babies can lead to discomfort and fussiness. Babies are prone to gas due to their immature digestive systems, which can result in trapped air in the digestive tract. Common symptoms of baby gas include fussiness, crying, and abdominal discomfort.

Differentiating Between Colic and Gas:

While colic and gas share some overlapping symptoms, there are key differences to consider:

  • Crying Patterns: Colic often follows a predictable pattern of prolonged, intense crying episodes, whereas gas-related discomfort may occur sporadically, particularly after feeding.
  • Duration of Symptoms: Colic symptoms persist for extended periods, typically lasting for several weeks or months, whereas gas-related discomfort may resolve more quickly, especially after passing gas or having a bowel movement.
  • Associated Symptoms:*Colic may be accompanied by other signs of gastrointestinal distress, such as clenched fists, arched back, and difficulty feeding, whereas gas-related discomfort may be primarily characterized by abdominal bloating and flatulence.

Relief Strategies for Colic and Gas in Infants:

Gentle Massage:
Gentle abdominal massage can help alleviate discomfort associated with both colic and gas in infants. According to a study published in the "Journal of Pediatric Nursing," abdominal massage has been shown to reduce crying time and promote relaxation in infants with colic. To perform a gentle massage:

  • Lay your baby on their back in a comfortable position.
  • Use your fingertips to apply gentle pressure in a clockwise motion around their abdomen.
  • Continue massaging for a few minutes, monitoring your baby's response for signs of relaxation.

    Tummy Massage Image

Tummy Time:
Engaging your baby in supervised tummy time sessions can aid in relieving gas and promoting digestion. Tummy time helps to:

  • Encourage the release of trapped gas by applying gentle pressure to the abdomen.
  • Strengthen neck and shoulder muscles, facilitating the passage of gas through the digestive tract.
  • Improve overall digestion and reduce discomfort associated with gas buildup.

Proper Feeding Techniques:
Proper feeding techniques can minimize the ingestion of air during feeding, reducing gas buildup and discomfort in infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following feeding tips:

  • Ensure a proper latch during breastfeeding to minimize air intake.
  • Burp your baby frequently during and after feeding sessions to release trapped air.
  • Use slow-flow nipples and paced feeding techniques with bottle-feeding to prevent gulping of air.

Probiotic Supplements:
Probiotic supplements containing beneficial bacteria strains may help restore the balance of gut flora in infants, reducing gas and digestive discomfort. According to a meta-analysis published in the "Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition," probiotics have been shown to be effective in reducing colic symptoms in breastfed infants. When considering probiotic supplementation for your baby:

  • Consult with your pediatrician to determine the appropriate probiotic strain and dosage for your baby's age and health condition.
  • Choose a probiotic supplement specifically formulated for infants, preferably with strains such as Lactobacillus reuteri or Bifidobacterium infantis, which have shown efficacy in reducing colic symptoms.

Heating Milk Prior to Feeding: 
Heating milk before feeding can be a simple yet effective strategy for alleviating gas and colic symptoms in babies. By promoting smoother digestion, relaxation of muscles, and enhanced nutrient absorption, warm milk offers numerous benefits for your baby's comfort and well-being. While the Center for Disease Control (CDC) highly advises against warming bottles in the microwave, bottles warmers such as the Baby's Brew portable bottle warmer can provide several benefits for babies prone to gas or colic such as:

  • Improved Digestion: Warm milk is easier for babies to digest compared to cold milk. Heating milk to body temperature (around 98.6°F or 37°C) mimics the warmth of breast milk, promoting smoother digestion and reducing the likelihood of gas buildup.
  • Relaxation of Muscles: Warm milk has a soothing effect on the muscles of the digestive tract, helping to relax tight muscles and alleviate discomfort. This can be especially beneficial for babies experiencing colic, as it may help reduce the intensity and duration of crying spells.
  • Enhanced Nutrient Absorption: Heating milk can improve the bioavailability of nutrients, ensuring that your baby receives maximum nourishment from each feeding. Proper nutrient absorption is essential for overall growth and development, making heated milk a valuable option for promoting your baby's well-being.

Consultation with Healthcare Provider:
If your baby continues to experience persistent colic or gas-related discomfort, or if you have concerns about their well-being, it's essential to seek guidance from your pediatrician or healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can offer personalized recommendations and may suggest further evaluation or intervention if necessary.

Deciphering whether your baby is experiencing colic or gas can be challenging, but understanding the differences between the two conditions is the first step towards effective management and relief. By recognizing the distinct signs and symptoms of colic and gas, implementing appropriate strategies for relief, and seeking support from healthcare professionals when needed, you can help your baby feel more comfortable and content during this sensitive stage of development. Always consult with your pediatrician or healthcare provider for personalized guidance and recommendations tailored to your baby's specific needs.


What is colic?
Colic is a term used to describe excessive, unexplained crying in otherwise healthy infants. It is characterized by crying bouts lasting for more than three hours a day, three days a week, for at least three weeks in a row.

What causes colic in babies?
The exact cause of colic remains unknown, but it is believed to be related to gastrointestinal discomfort or immature digestive systems in infants. Factors such as gas buildup, food sensitivities, and overstimulation may contribute to colic.

How can I tell if my baby has colic?
Babies with colic typically exhibit prolonged bouts of intense crying, often with no apparent cause. Colic may follow a predictable pattern, occurring at around the same time each day, usually in the late afternoon or evening.

What are the symptoms of gas in babies?
Common symptoms of gas in babies include fussiness, crying, abdominal discomfort, bloating, and flatulence. Babies may also exhibit signs of discomfort during feeding or while passing gas.

What causes gas in babies?
Gas in babies is often caused by swallowing air during feeding or crying, leading to trapped air in the digestive tract. Factors such as improper feeding techniques, rapid feeding, and certain foods in the mother's diet (for breastfed babies) can contribute to gas buildup.

How can I relieve gas in my baby?
Some effective strategies for relieving gas in babies include gentle massage, tummy time, proper feeding techniques (such as burping frequently during feeds), and using anti-colic bottles designed to reduce air intake.

Is there a difference between colic and gas?
While colic and gas share some overlapping symptoms, they are distinct conditions. Colic is characterized by prolonged bouts of crying, often with no apparent cause, while gas is the result of trapped air in the digestive tract, leading to discomfort and fussiness.

Can heating milk help with colic and gas symptoms?
Yes, heating milk before feeding can help alleviate gas and colic symptoms in babies. Warm milk is easier to digest and has a soothing effect on the digestive tract, promoting relaxation and reducing discomfort.

When should I consult a healthcare provider about my baby's colic or gas?
If your baby's symptoms persist or if you have concerns about their well-being, it's important to consult a pediatrician or healthcare provider. They can offer personalized guidance, rule out any underlying medical conditions, and provide recommendations for managing colic and gas symptoms effectively.

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