Researchers Hone in on the Causes of Colic

by Gabriel Humffray

Colic ResearchWe're not sure why some babies have colic and cry for hours at a time, no matter what you do. Colic is hard on parents as much as their babies.

Doctors usually diagnose colic when a healthy baby cries harder than expected in a "3" pattern. For example, more than 3 hours a day more than 3 days a week for at least 3 weeks in a row.

Colic usually begins when your baby is between three weeks and three months of age and peaks at six to eight weeks.

Recently researchers have looked at factors that increase your baby's risk of colic in hopes that one day it can be prevented.

"My beautiful baby who was sleeping four or five hour stretches suddenly got colic. He didn't want a breast sometimes, and dad spent hours walking our crying son on his shoulder. Most of the photos we have, which aren't of him crying, are of him in that position." ~Nadine, Pregnancy.org member

Researchers Weigh In

Researchers have found correlations that increase the likelihood of having a colicky baby. Being forewarned can enable parents to be armed with information and coping mechanisms to counter colic.

Babies' Colic Linked to Mothers' Migraines

Moms, be sure you're reading that in the intended order. Dealing with a screaming baby suffering from colic for hours on end can certainly trigger your migraine reaction.

However, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco have found that there actually is a correlation between a parent's history of migraine the likelihood of having a colicky baby.

Data from mothers and their babies showed that nearly 29 percent of the babies whose mothers had a history of migraine had colic, compared with about 11 percent of babies whose moms didn't report migraines.

Fathers answered the survey, too. About 22 percent of colicky babies had a father with migraine compared to about 10 percent of the babies who didn't have the condition.

According to Dr. Joel Saper, director of the Michigan Headache & Neurological Institute in Ann Arbor, babies and children have immature nervous systems that don't work the same way as an adult's. He said migraine might manifest differently in babies and children.

Could colicky babies with a family history of migraine benefit from some of the strategies that help some adult migraine sufferers?

"Turning down loud music, going to a quiet room and decreasing stimulation might help," study author Dr. Amy Gelfand said. She also suggested keeping a "crying diary" to track when colic occurs and what works to calm the baby.

Nicotine Patches Might Lead to Colic

Previous findings had tied mother's smoking during pregnancy to higher rates of colic in their babies. New findings from the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark say nicotine replacement therapy can also raise the risk of have a colicky baby.

For the study, colic was defined as three or more hours of crying and fussing a day for at least three days a week. The babies weren't sick or teething.

Smokers' babies were at 30% higher risk of colic than those not exposed to any source of nicotine in the population-based birth cohort study. Babies whose moms were on a nicotine patch were almost 37% more apt to be colicky.

The research team says these results shouldn't be considered a contraindication for nicotine replacement therapy for women who can't stop smoking without it. But the risk seen does warrant more investigation into safety for use in pregnancy.

Health experts recommend women who want to quit smoking for the sake of their own and their babies’ health not to use nicotine replacement therapy and choose safer techniques such as counseling and behavioral therapy or hypnosis.

Calming Colic

Parents and experts offer a variety of tips that might help a child with colic. Different measures calm different babies. We've listed tricks that other parents find helpful.

  • The Five S's: Swaddling snuggly, with the arms down, Side/stomach position, loud continuous shushing noise, a rhythmic swinging movement and sucking.
  • Baby wearing: Research shows that babies who are held or carried more (both during the colic spells and at other times) are less susceptible to colic. Maybe wearing babies are less overwhelmed throughout the day and build up less tension.
  • Comfy tummies: Although 50 years of research finds no link between the foods a breastfeeding mom eats and colic, some parents find that eliminate certain items from their diets lessens baby's crying. Commonly mentioned are coffee, citrus, cow milk dairy products, broccoli and beans. Some bottle-feeding parents find that changing the hole size in the nipple reduces crying.
  • Vibrate: A car ride, a vibrating bouncy seat and a few minutes on top of the dryer calm some babies.

All babies cry. Most babies cry a lot. Some babies can be easily comforted, others routinely work themselves into a frenzy. Colic won't last forever! It usually won't last more than 3 months, and you will eventually have a cheerful baby in your arms.

What's helped calm your colicky baby?


SOURCES: "Infant Colic is Associated with Maternal Migraine" by Amy Gelfand, Katherine Thomas, and Peter Goadsby will be made on April 25 in New Orleans. Results should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process.

Milidou I, et al "Nicotine replacement therapy during pregnancy and infantile colic in the offspring" Pediatrics 2012; 129: 652–658.

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