The Difference Between Colic and Fussiness

Every baby cries at some point, but some seem to cry more often and for longer periods than others. At some point, you may wonder if your baby is merely fussy, or if you are dealing with colic. There are a few distinctions that can help to clarify the issue.

Defining Colic and Fussiness

Doctors define colic as intense periods of crying that last for at least three hours at a time, three or more days a week, for a period of time of at least three weeks in duration. Colic is diagnosed when the baby is otherwise healthy, well-fed, and shows no signs of illness or other problems that might explain the crying.

Fussiness is a little more difficult to define, as there is no medical definition for it, and it really isn’t considered a condition. Fussy babies are generally more sensitive than other babies and may cry more often or take longer to soothe than most babies. Most fussiness isn’t caused by a medical condition either, but illness can cause a fussy baby to be even more difficult to calm or console.

The difference is generally in the duration and regularity of the crying. A baby with colic will usually cry at the same time of day, begin crying out of nowhere, and cry for a long period of time. Fussy babies cry randomly, and may have short burst of crying or longer periods. There may be an obvious reason for fussy behavior, or it may be difficult to tell what the reason is for the crying.

Determining Between Colic and Fussiness

If your baby cries more than three hours a day several days a week for many weeks straight, you are most likely dealing with colic. You should see your baby’s pediatrician to rule out other causes of the crying and confirm the diagnosis. If the crying is less often and less persistent, it is likely your baby is fussy but not colicky.

While colicky babies don’t often respond to traditional methods of soothing, fussy babies are more likely to be soothed with common tricks. It may require more effort and more persistence, however, and you might need to try a lot of different options to see what works for your baby.

Fussy babies tend to cry fairly frequently and are upset easily, but the crying doesn’t usually go on for hours the way it does with colic. Although it may seem like your baby is crying an awful lot, keeping track of how long crying spells actually last will make it easier to determine whether or not colic is actually a possibility. A fussy baby may cry many more time per day than a colicky baby, but the colicky baby’s crying will last much longer at a spell. Fussiness doesn’t usually follow a pattern the way colic does, and a fussy baby will cry at any time of day for difficult but not always impossible to determine reasons.

Keeping track of your baby’s crying habits is a good method of figuring out whether your baby has colic or is fussy. Write down when the crying started, how long it lasted, what caused it to stop (if it was anything obvious) and what soothing methods you tried. If you take your baby to the doctor, this record will also help the doctor to determine what is going on.

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