No one knows for sure why babies get colic. Colicky babies cry non-stop and don't respond to being comforted. It can push a new parent over the edge and even the most experienced parent, who has to watch their baby cry in pain, can be moved to tears themselves.
A new study from the University of California, San Francisco suggests that mothers who suffer migraine headaches are more than twice as likely to have babies with colic than mothers without a history of migraines.
The study raises the question - are the two linked? It's an important question because excessive crying is one of the most common triggers for shaken baby syndrome, which can cause death, brain damage and severe disability, the researchers said.
"If we can understand what is making the babies cry, we may be able to protect them from this very dangerous outcome," said Amy Gelfand, MD, a child neurologist with the Headache Center at UCSF who will present the findings in April at the American Academy of Neurology's 64th annual meeting.
Colic in healthy babies has long been associated with gastrointestinal problems. But, after 50 years of studies no defining link has been established. Babies who are fed solely breast milk are as likely to have colic as those fed formula, and giving colicky babies medication for gas does not help.
In the UCSF study, Gelfand and her colleagues surveyed 154 new mothers bringing their infants to the pediatrician for routine checkups at two months, the age when colicky crying typically peaks. The mothers were surveyed about their babies' crying patterns and their own history of migraine, and those responses were analyzed to make sure the reported crying fit the clinical definition of colic.
Mothers who suffered migraines were found to be 2 1/2 times as likely to have colicky babies. Overall, 29% of infants whose mothers had migraines had colic compared to 11% of babies whose mothers did not have migraines.
The researchers believe that colic may be an early manifestation of symptoms known as childhood periodic syndrome. These symptoms could be a precursor to migraine headaches later in life. Babies with colic may be more sensitive to a stimulated environment; much like migraine sufferers are affected by light and loud sounds.
The UCSF researchers plan to study a group of colicky babies over the course of their childhood to see if they develop other childhood periodic syndromes, such as abdominal migraine.
If you believe your baby has colic, check with your pediatrician. There are comfort strategies that have helped some babies respond positively.