Parents who suffer from migraine headaches are more than twice as likely to have babies with colic than parents who don’t have a history of migraines, according to a new study at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). More than 29 million Americans suffer chronic pain from migraines.
Colic, or excessive crying, has long been associated with gastrointestinal problems in babies. But after more than 50 years of research, no definitive link has been proven between infant colic and gastrointestinal illness.
“We’ve known about colic for a really long time, but despite this fact, no one really knows why these babies are crying,” said Amy Gelfand, MD, a child neurologist with UCSF’s Headache Center.
Gelfand and her colleagues surveyed 154 new mothers with two month old infants, the age when colicky crying usually reaches its peak. The mothers were asked about their babies’ crying patterns and their own history of migraine. Mothers who suffered migraines were two-and-a-half times more likely to have colicky babies. In all, 29 percent of the infants whose mothers had migraines had colic, compared to 11 percent of the babies whose mothers did not have migraines.
About 22 percent of colicky babies had a father with migraine, compared to 10 percent of the babies who did not, suggesting a genetic link.
The UCSF researchers believe colic may be an early sign of a set of conditions known as childhood periodic syndromes, believed to be precursors to migraine headaches later in life. Babies with colic may have difficulty coping with new stimuli once they are outside the womb and, like migraine sufferers, may be more sensitive to light and sound. Reducing stimulation may help alleviate some of the crying. That is significant because excessive crying is one of the most common triggers for shaken baby syndrome, which can cause death, brain damage and disability.
“If we can understand what is making the babies cry, we may be able to protect them from this very dangerous outcome,” said Gelfand. She will present her findings at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in New Orleans in April.