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How Do I Tell the Difference between Colic and Gas?

Autumn Rivers
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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If your infant cries for hours for no obvious reason, it may be because of either colic or gas. It is often difficult to tell the difference between colic and gas since both involve crying for several hours for no apparent reason. Baby flatulence, however, can usually be treated by gas drops, burping, and other remedies, while colic cannot. Colic also typically occurs at the same time every night, and usually causes the baby to arch the back, clench the fists, and draw up the knees during the crying episode. Being aware of these symptoms should allow you to be able to tell the difference between colic and gas in an infant.

Colic is defined as inconsolable fussiness and crying in a healthy infant for no apparent reason. It usually occurs in babies between ages three weeks to three months, and the crying typically lasts for three hours at least three days per week for three or more weeks in a row. Attempts to soothe the baby are useless, especially since the baby usually pushes parents away and continues to cry no matter what remedies are used. On the other hand, babies with gas can usually be soothed with gas drops, applying a little pressure to the stomach, or burping. If you attempt these remedies to no avail, you will likely see the difference between colic and gas firsthand, and can assume that your baby has colic.

In most cases, colic fussiness happens at the same time every day, with the worst episodes usually occurring in the evening. Gas, on the other hand, may occur at any time, most notably after feedings. Note that some babies may have both colic and gas, in which case they may cry both after feedings and at the same time every day. Applying treatments for gas to the infant may at least solve one problem.

Both colic and gas can cause infants to pull their knees to their chest or get into a curled up position, but infants with colic also tend to arch their backs while crying. Clenching the fists and flailing the arms and legs are other actions that can be expected from an infant with colic, which most babies with gas do not tend to do. Infants with colic do not appear to want to be held, and may struggle when parents attempt to soothe them with touch or other remedies that normally appease infants.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Autumn Rivers
By Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for The Health Board, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Jul 10, 2014

@Pippinwhite -- You're probably closer to the truth than you realized about the alcohol.

When my sister was a baby, she had awful colic. My mom talked to her mother and Granny said an old home remedy was bourbon or whiskey, sweetened with sugar and given by the teaspoon. Mom said she felt like she gave my sister a fifth of whiskey, but in reality, it was only about a tablespoon. Mom said she calmed right down and slept through the night. I guess a tipsy baby is a happy baby.

I know "progressive" parents would faint at the thought, but my sister didn't suffer any ill effects and Mom and Dad were finally able to get some sleep!

By Pippinwhite — On Jul 09, 2014

A colicky baby can drive parents crazy in a hurry. I used to keep a little one who had colic. His parents had to get out once in a while, and since I'm a night owl, the lack of sleep before midnight didn't bother me, but they had to get away occasionally.

I asked their permission to get some gripe water and they said I was welcome to try it. It worked for this kid. I gave him two doses and it took about 20 minutes, but he calmed down after only an hour of fussing. I know it doesn't work for every baby, but it worked for him. I suspect the alcohol in it didn't hurt.

With gas, just using some gas drops takes care of the problem in a few minutes. Colic is completely different. I don't know how they scream so long without wearing themselves completely out. I guess that's when they finally stop crying.

Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for The Health Board, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
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