Regulatory Disorders

By | June 8, 2022

About one in ten babies will cry excessively and violently during the first three months of life. If the infant has a regulatory disorder, the parents will need strong nerves, perseverance and inner calm. An obsolete term for this disorder is tri-monthly colic.

What are regulatory disorders?

Babies who cry an unusual amount and are difficult to soothe are colloquially referred to as “cry babies”. Today’s medical term for the difficult behavior is regulatory disorders.¬†For meanings of hypoglycemia, please visit

The term three-month colic is considered obsolete. Originally, it was believed that air in the infant’s abdomen caused abdominal pain and bloating, and that excessive crying was a sign of discomfort. However, it is now known that the air in the stomach is the result of crying, which also causes the baby to swallow a lot of air.

An infant is considered a cry baby if it cries an unusual amount and apparently for no reason for more than three hours on at least three days a week and is difficult to soothe. This condition must last for at least three weeks to be considered a regulatory disorder.


Excessive crying is the result of belated behavioral regulation in the infant. Babies must learn to appropriately regulate their behavior in the respective, often interactive situation, for example feeding, sleeping, the desire for attention or self-soothing.

Crying babies have great difficulty assessing different situations correctly and reacting appropriately. In many cases, the parents are not “to blame” for the baby’s regulatory disorder and they can only exert little influence on it: the baby ultimately has to learn the regulation itself.

However, since babies are very dependent on their parents and cannot yet satisfy needs such as food on their own, regulatory disorders often occur in connection with disruptions in the mother-child relationship. Reasons for this can be, for example, a high stress factor before, during and after the birth, conflicts between the parents or the family of origin as well as mental illnesses of one or both parents.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The main symptom of regulatory disorders is excessive crying. Excessive crying intensity is present when the average age-related crying time per day is significantly exceeded. For an infant, this is about one to two hours within the first six weeks of life. From the sixth to the twelfth week of life, it increases to two to three hours.

After that, it usually decreases again in healthy children. The symptoms occur in regulatory disorders on at least three days a week. In many cases, there are several screaming attacks a day. Symptoms usually last at least three weeks. They can also come back in spurts.

In the case of regulatory disorders, it is striking that the affected infants otherwise make a completely healthy impression. The screaming usually occurs in paroxysms in the early evening or after meals. The affected babies suddenly get severe stomach pains and in many cases also flatulence. They often have a bloated stomach and writhe.

Your skin may turn red. The muscles often appear tense. Other symptoms can include irritability and jumpiness. There may also be difficulty swallowing or sucking. Most infants with regulatory disorders also have trouble sleeping and falling asleep. In a few cases, failure to thrive occurs.

Diagnosis & History

The main symptom of regulatory disorders is excessive, apparently unfounded crying and a lack of reaction to appropriate calming measures.

The infant may have been content and calm one moment and then burst into a fit of crying the next. The seizures occur mostly in the evening. The baby has severe problems falling asleep and rarely sleeps for more than 30 minutes at a time during the day. The child often wakes up at night. A generally pronounced startle and irritability are typical of cry babies. Accompanying symptoms during the screaming fits can be an intense red skin color and tense muscles. The stomach may be slightly bloated due to the air swallowed when screaming.

In order to be able to make the diagnosis, physical illnesses or damage to the brain must first be ruled out. Child abuse is also considered an exclusion diagnosis for a regulatory disorder. Particular attention is paid to the interaction between mother and child. Own experiences from the parents’ childhood, the quality of the relationship between the parents and other psychosocial problems of the parents are included.

A detailed anamnesis and possibly diaries should help to recognize and improve difficult situations in the daily routine. Furthermore, an examination of a possible developmental delay of the infant is carried out.


Occasionally, three-month colic affects the psychological state of the parents. Due to stress and lack of sleep, an aggressive attitude towards the child and partner can develop, which in turn leads to arguments and neglect of the child’s well-being. Sometimes desperate parents shake the child, which can quickly lead to serious damage to the health and even death of the child.

If mental illnesses are already present, regulatory disorders can exacerbate them and, in the worst case, lead to depression. Regulatory disorders are not a problem for the baby itself. However, if other illnesses are present, the three-month colic can intensify them. In children with gastrointestinal diseases or problems with the cardiovascular system, sudden abdominal pain and the associated stress can cause serious complications such as circulatory disorders or diarrhea and constipation.

As a rule, no major complications arise during the treatment. Occasionally, the pediatrician will prescribe mild sedatives, which can cause temporary physical discomfort. Complications can also arise if the three-month colic is mistaken for another disease. If this is recognized too late due to an incorrect diagnosis, physical complaints and long-term consequences are conceivable.

When should you go to the doctor?

Regulatory disorders should be discussed with a doctor. As a rule, these disorders do not go away on their own, so medical treatment is necessary in any case. Further complications can only be avoided by early diagnosis and treatment of the regulatory disorders. A doctor should be consulted if the person concerned screams very often and for a long time every day and can no longer control his anger himself.

Children and adolescents in particular can be affected by these regulatory disorders. Outsiders often have to point out these disorders to people and persuade them to undergo an examination or treatment. In some cases, regulatory disorders can also lead to severe flatulence or abdominal pain. If these symptoms occur over a longer period of time, you should definitely consult a doctor. First and foremost, the general practitioner can be visited. In most cases, this also leads to a positive course of the disease and not to a reduced life expectancy of the person concerned.

Treatment & Therapy

To treat regulatory disorders, the parents first carry out calming measures, such as physical contact, baby massages and soothing baths, moving the baby into a different position, carefully repeating sounds or movements, ensuring even and soothing background noises and introducing bedtime rituals.

The baby should be carried around by the parents more often when it is calm, which has been shown in studies to be more effective than carrying it around as a calming measure in the event of a crying attack. Overall, parents should try to remain calm, possibly seek serious help, and ensure a regular and calm daily routine.

Furthermore, various therapeutic approaches can help parents to better understand their child’s needs and to be able to react appropriately. Common methods are, for example, relationship analysis with video feedback or parent-child psychotherapy.


In order to prevent regulatory disorders, a balanced interaction between parents and child is important. The measures mentioned above, such as a regular daily routine, quiet background noise, minimal hectic activity and overstimulation of the infant, as well as a loving bond are the most important factors in preventing a regulatory disorder. In the event of problems and uncertainties, professional help should be sought as quickly as possible.


The acute treatment and aftercare of regulatory disorders in early childhood go hand in hand, as there are usually several aspects of early childhood development that cause difficulties for the infant. Not all symptoms of the regulatory disorder will be treatable at the same time, nor will they all go away at the same time. It is important to closely monitor the child and the symptoms that occur.

Regulatory disorders are not uncommon in newborns and do not always require further follow-up care, as they gradually subside with increasing age. In the case of severe regulatory disorders in early childhood, a pediatrician will treat according to the effects and advise and educate the parents with regard to feeding and supportive behavior.

Further follow-up care is usually not to be expected in a healthy child. The pediatrician will have a corresponding focus on the regulatory disorder during check-up appointments or during the U-examinations. In addition, the further development of the child is closely monitored in order to rule out any diseases that could have caused the regulatory disorder or to be able to treat them as early as possible. For the regulatory disorder itself, no further follow-up is necessary if the child is healthy and the symptoms have completely resolved.

You can do that yourself

The regulatory disorders are considered to be a temporary phenomenon. As part of self-help, parents and relatives of a newborn can try out various methods in cooperation with doctors as well as experienced parents in order to alleviate the symptoms. Ultimately, by testing different approaches, individual ways are found that calm the offspring.

The baby should be placed in different physical positions so that changes can be noticed. Physical contact, warmth and affection help in most cases. In addition, warm baths or soothing background noises can help the baby find inner peace.

It is often important to ensure that the parents or the people who look after the infant receive sufficient relief. They need adequate sleep and breaks in caring for the newborn to regenerate themselves. It is important to minimize any stressors overall for the offspring and the parents. Loud noises, conflict situations or noise should be avoided. Sufficient exercise in the fresh air, a healthy diet and refraining from spreading restlessness help to bring about an improvement in the overall situation.

Playful activities, encouragement and maintaining sovereignty are advisable in the case of the screaming attacks of the offspring. In situations of overwhelm, another supervisor should be asked for help.

Regulatory Disorders