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How Do I Tell the Difference Between Colic and Gas?

Excessive crying is a symptom of colic.
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  • Written By: Autumn Rivers
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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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.

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In most cases, colic fussiness happens at the same time everyday, 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 everyday. 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.

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