Colic or Reflux?

By Colleen Brown (Retired Plunket Nurse)


• She cannot settle after her late afternoon or early evening feed and starts screaming as soon as the feed is over, or she falls asleep but wakes crying within half an hour.

• She does not just cry – she screams, drawing her legs up to her tummy, and appears distressed.

• Everything you do seems to help for a minute. She will suck, but then the screaming starts again. Often, wind will stop the screaming momentarily – but it starts again. Being rocked interrupts the screaming for a few seconds. Having her tummy rubbed produces miraculous silence – but it does not last.

• When you interrupt the screaming, the baby remains shaky and sobbing until it starts again.

• The whole episode lasts one to four hours, then it is over for the day.

• A similar pattern repeats itself every day at about the same time, but not at any other time in the 24-hour period.


• He cannot settle after his late or early evening feed, but cries and grumbles on and off for quite a long time before finally going to sleep. Grumbling never means colic.

• His crying is ordinary crying, even if it is hard crying. Drawing his legs up to his tummy is not necessarily a sign of colic – young babies always do that when crying hard

• Something you do brings the crying spell to an end within half an hour. If a feed or a dummy does the trick, the baby was obviously hungry or needed to suck – either way it is not colic. If bringing up wind enables him to sleep, then he had a windy attack, not colic. If rocking and rubbing soothes him, he may have been lonely or tense.

• The baby is calm while you are comforting him. He may cry when you put him to bed, but he is not distressed.

• The episode ends within half an hour and baby sleeps or stays happy for at least 15 minutes before he cries again.

• Occasional screaming spells at any time of the day or night. They may be hard to bear but they are not colic.


• He has continual spilling after feeds, with or without distressed crying.

• There are signs of spilling on his pillowslip or sheet.

• When you pick your baby up from the prone position, he spills a mouthful of milk over you.

• Your baby may grizzle a lot and arch his back in discomfort.

Excerpt from the © TREASURES® BABY BOOK. Used with permission.

Please also see What is Gastric Reflux? – Some babies with reflux rarely vomit at all …

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