The Curious Case of Colic

The Curious Case of Colic

[♪ INTRO] Babies cry a lot. Which can be really irritating, but it’s
normal. It’s the only way they can tell you they’re
hungry. Or bored. Or tired. Or… you get the idea. But some babies do cry more than others. And when an otherwise healthy baby cries more
than normal, they’re said to have infantile colic or be
“colicky”. But as medical-y as that sounds, it doesn’t mean the doctor knows what’s
causing all those tears. Though we’ve been studying colic for decades, we still don’t have a clear answer for why
it happens. Though more recently, research seems to suggest a link to migraines—and that might finally
help doctors figure out what parents can do about it. The term “colic” has been around for basically
ever, but it wasn’t really codified in the medical
community until the 1950s. That’s when pediatricians came up with the
rule of three, which many medical professionals still use
today. Basically, it’s colic if an infant cries
for at least three hours a day, at least three days a week, for more than
three weeks. Colicky crying may also seem more intense than regular baby crying, and like an expression
of pain. And the usual things that console upset babies, like food or diaper changes, often have no
effect. As upsetting as colic can be, it’s estimated
that between five and nineteen percent of infants (and perhaps more) experience it. And the cause that seems most obvious is tummy
distress. After all, colicky infants often pull up their
legs to their chests and pass gas during episodes of crying. That’s even why it’s called colic. It’s related to the Greek root kolikos, which means pertaining to the large intestine. But pinning down what “tummy distress”
means medically has proven difficult. Colic doesn’t seem to be gas-related, for
example. Clinical trials using simethicone (a drug commonly used to treat painful gas) have found it’s no more effective than a
placebo. And other gastrointestinal explanations, like that some infants struggle to digest
something in breastmilk or formula, generally haven’t
panned out either. Sometimes, babies who seem colicky may actually have a milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance. But that’s thought to explain less than
5% of colicky infants. And outside of true milk allergies posing
as colic, there isn’t much evidence that what or how a baby is fed is to blame. Since upset tummies didn’t seem to explain all cases of colic, researchers have looked
elsewhere. Maybe it’s more of a psychological thing. Like, colicky infants are responding to high
levels of family stress, or have a developmental
lag in their ability to regulate emotion, or they’re just high-strung. But none of those ideas seem to explain the
whole picture, either. And slowly, researchers started to notice something else—something intriguing. In a 1994 paper, for example, doctors in Pittsburgh described treating an infant with severe colic whose daily crying episodes were really intense. In addition to inconsolable crying, the poor
thing would scratch at her head and even vomit. It turned out that a lot of her close relatives had experienced migraines—those super intense
headaches that tend to be accompanied by other nasty
symptoms like visual sensory disturbances, sensitivity
to light and sound, and nausea. So, the doctors tried giving the baby a low
dose of a migraine medication—and it worked. Studies since have found that there’s a
strong association between parental migraines and colic. One from 2012 suggests that infants have more than double the risk of developing colic if their mother has migraines. And a web-based survey published in 2019 of
over 1400 biological parents found the more
migraines a mother experienced per month, the higher
the odds were that her baby had colic. So it’s possible that what we’ve been
calling colic is really infant migraines. But that doesn’t tell us what the babies are actually experiencing. You see, migraines are kind of enigmatic to
begin with. We don’t fully understand why they happen, or why people experience them differently. And on top of that, we can’t ask an infant
if they’re crying because their head hurts a lot, or if they’re
being freaked out by sensory disturbances. It could even be their bellies after all. It’s estimated that between one and nine
percent of children and some adults who have migraines experience what are called abdominal migraines. Basically, they get all the usual joys of
migraines plus pain in their abdomen. Why they feel their migraines in their bellies
isn’t clear, but there are a lot of connections between your head and your stomach. The two are so intertwined that there’s
even a term for it: the gut-brain axis. So doctors think abdominal migraines may occur because something goes wrong somewhere in
that axis. While all of this makes migraines sound like a solid explanation for colic, there actually
isn’t a lot of smoking-gun evidence. We can’t look at test results and say “Yep, these infants are definitely having
migraines.” It’s also entirely possible there’s something
else going on that’s just related to migraines. There seems to be an important connection between migraines and a lot of gastrointestinal
disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory
bowel disease. Plus, multiple studies suggest the gut microbiome
may play a role in colic, migraines, and other
gastrointestinal disorders. Basically, doctors are pretty sure these pieces
all fit together…somehow. They’re just not exactly sure how. Luckily, even without a fully-assembled puzzle, the migraine piece does suggest some practical
ways to manage colic. Basically, you might try things that help
older kids and adults with migraines—like steering
clear of loud music and noise, dimming bright lights, and avoiding strong
smells. Also, it may mean steering away from some common comforting practices. Like, that safe jiggling or bouncing that
some parents do while supporting a baby’s head—while it
can soothe crying infants, it could be overstimulating to babies with
colic. So, gentle rocking might be a better approach. But also, if you do have a colicky baby, keep in mind that it’s okay to take a break if the crying feels overwhelming. Like with migraines, there may not be a whole
lot you can do to soothe them. That’s why pediatricians say you can set
a crying baby down in a safe space, like a crib or a playpen, and just step away for a minute if you need
to. Protect your mental health. And if nothing else, rest assured that infant
colic doesn’t last forever, even if it seems like
it will. By four months of age, most cases of colic have improved or resolved entirely. Then, it’s just, you know, the whole rest
of parenthood you have to deal with. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow— we hope you learned something! And if you did, well, you can thank our patrons
for that. You see, the support of our patrons on Patreon helps ensure that all these educational science
videos we make are available for anyone to watch for free. And if that sounds like something you might
like to support, you can learn more about our patron community
at [♪ OUTRO]

100 Replies to “The Curious Case of Colic”

  1. My little girl had colic, she screamed for hours every night, its just heart breaking. We were so thankful when she stopped having it. One theory that a GP told me had stuck with me, his theory (with my dumbed down version) was that the muscles that moved food along the colon hadn't figured out the rhythm to move food in one direction and ended up squeezing food towards each other (if that makes sense)

  2. This breaks my heart😖 I suffer migraine and can't imagine a poor, little baby going thru that and not getting relief bc their parents don't know

  3. Had colic as an infant. Have had IBS my whole life and chronic migraines most of my life. Interesting that it could possibly all be connected…

  4. Huh. Wouldn't surprise me at all… Of my mom's three children (she had migraines), I and one of my brothers still have migraines as adults, but didn't have colic. The one brother who did, don't have migraines now, neither did he when he was a teen. I'd much rather had colic than migraines later on. Seriously. 🙁
    Funnily enough, I was also born with lactose intolerance, but still didn't get colic. Started getting migraines around puberty instead. Thank all the gods for Sumatriptan, is all I can say.

  5. ⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️ STOP feeding human mothers dairy and to babies COW’S MILK formula. We are not baby cows! Then maybe quite a few of those issues will disappear…

  6. Wow. Pretty interesting! But I've had migraines as long as I can remember, some so severe that I landed in the ER unconscious multiple times, and yet none of my 4 babies ever had colic. My youngest JUST hit 3 months old and only just started crying more than normal last week but she has been the easiest baby EVER, so even all this "extra" crying is nowhere anywhere remotely near being considered colic! I'll count my blessings and pray that this means that none of my babies have inherited my migraines!

  7. You can't give an infant a placebo. Literally, they do not know the difference between food and medication, let alone what medication is. The idea that you can use a 'placebo' as a control for a drug test in infants is well, infantile..

  8. My older two had really bad reflux as newborns, so when they had colic, it was really painful for them. My youngest didn't have reflux. When she had colic, I didn't recognize it. I took her to the pediatrician because she was just chronically slightly fussy. He said, "I thought you had two other kids. This is just colic." I responded, "Oh! So THIS is what it's supposed to look like!" 🤣

  9. Thanks for adding the remarks at the end. Crying babies can be really hard to deal with emotionally. Noise cancelling headphones have been an extremely effective strategy for me when my 4 month old son won’t stop crying. The headphones remove the auditory aspect of his crying and allow me to stay with him for longer without feeling overwhelmed when he is especially fussy.

  10. I did have Colic and I have migraines as an adult I also get the nausea and vomiting during migraine. But my son was not colicy and has not ever had a migraine. There may be something to this

  11. Having a colicky baby brings you to your knees as a parent – there arent many other extremely high stress situations than that in life. Mine doesn't have any gastro related issues at all! He couldn't adapt and relax in any situation other than being in direct body contact – and even then he cried sometimes for hours. What finally helped him was to let him experience and endure these normal situations like laying on the couch or in the stroller without being soothed. Only then he started to be more calm and especially more happy for the first time ever! I believe that lagging neurological development might often be the reason for colic, without any present bodily discomfort or pain whatsoever. I wish there was more research on that!

  12. My daughter was crazy colicky she used scream and pull her knees up to her chest it was bad , she also had acid reflux. She gets migraines now pretty regularly maybe there is some type of correlation between the two? The gut brain biome is fascinating .

  13. We really appreciate your videos, and would enjoy them much more if you could eliminate those quick cuts between sentences! You are speaking already so fast I can barely keep up, but the lack of a pause after a period doesn't let my brain transition to the next thought. Please slow down, ok? Thank you!

  14. You were the right host for this episode. My mom says you look family smart. Idk what it means but im sure its a compliment

  15. I like the old-fashioned remedy for colic: a crushed-up valium and a bit of booze in the baby formula.

  16. As a person who has had adult biliary colic & been stabbed I can confirm that if feels like some one stuck you then twisted the blade. For a baby its gotta be an unreasonable hell.

  17. Love that you mentioned it's okay to set your baby down. I know so many parents who forget to take care of themselves and get burnt out. Particularly when they have a sick kid. I've a lot of friends with new babies an I worry about them. Parenthood is rough ♡

  18. Yup. I can attest to this. Rubbing my daughter's head helped her calm down at that age. I wouldn't call her colicky, but it did help. Migranes run in the family (as does a high pain tolerance)

  19. My colic as a baby was lactose intolerance. My mom went to so many doctors to get help, but they all brushed her off saying "honey, babies cry" because she was a young mom.

  20. Thoughts on links between parental migraine incidence and colic: Since determining BOTH conditions may largely rely on self-reported data, to what degree might a migraines colic link be directly causal rather than genetic? Wouldn't a continuously crying baby trigger/prolong/intensify headaches? And might not a migraine sufferer's reduced endurance to crying increase failures to pacify cause babies to cry longer?

  21. Anybody know where the SciShow video is on the new science that women can make new eggs? It has king been believed that women are born with all of their eggs… until new science this year… thank you for your help!!

  22. I've assumed it was headache related my entire life.
    I remember crying until my head hurt, then crying cause my head hurt. Ig i'm just weird

  23. My daughter suffered from this for almost a month, every couple of days. It was awful. Then it just stopped happening. Her pediatrician told us to keep the lights off, other than the nightlight, and put her in her crib every 10mn or so. It seemed to help, I think because she could sense how tense we were. Don't miss those nights at all.

  24. My daughter would cry 4-5 hours a day. I would come home and my wife would also be in tears …until we figured out that the sound of running bathwater soothed her. Figuring that it was the white noise, we tried running the vacuum cleaner. It worked! So we started turning on the vacuum, standing it in the corner, and shouting when we needed to talk. It was so much better. 😌

  25. Baby misses its bosom buddy – that ever-present companion back in the womb, Mama's heartbeat.
    MOTHER: "What is WRONG? It's almost like your crying is timed just to make my migraines WORSE!"
    BABY (SCREAMING): "Finally, it's working – those veins are POUNDING OUT my tunes, Mama! Hurry and hold me up against those THROBBING temples, QUICK before your dang pills start killing the volume."

  26. I was a fun baby with colic then it turn into night terrors then it turn into sleep walking and talking. Now it is just sleep talking and kicking in my sleep. Surprised my wife with kicking in my sleep. Then to top it all off I also have autism.

  27. I was a colicky baby and got diagnosed with my first migraine when I was 5. I don't get them chronically but certainly have them in clusters when I'm stressed. Mom gets migraines, too.

  28. Although migraines may be the cause of colic in some babies, correlation does not always equal causation. I had colic as a baby and I do not experience migraines as an adult and my mother doesn't have them either. Also I am not lactose intolerant. Maybe some day they will be able to solve this mystery.

  29. My first had colic for over a year. She's so calm and sweet now, but that first year was really tough on her (and us parents!). Things that helped us: make sure to burp her after nursing, wearing her in a wrap basically the whole day, and holding her to me while gently bouncing sitting on an exercise ball when she'd go into one of her crying times.
    Hang in there, parents of colicy littles! It does get easier!

  30. One thing that seems to soothe crying, colicky babies almost all the time is riding in the car. (Unless it makes them carsick.)

  31. Interesting. I had colic as a baby, and I do get migraines too. Not often, thankfully, but I got them a lot more when I was little. Maybe I was having them as a baby too.

  32. Perhaps women with migraines simply misreport their babies as colic because they are especially sensitive to loud noises and feel like any crying is excessive.

  33. That is depressing. Mom having migraines means baby is more likely to have colic, which means crying, which means worse symptoms from mom leading to more triggers of colic in the baby… just another issue to add to complications to look out for if/when I have a baby.

  34. So…the explanation to something that we don't understand is an another thing we don't understand. Interesting.
    By the way when our daughter had the colics tummy massage or rice based heated pillows helped.

  35. I was a colicky baby (my parents describe it as crying intensely for hours with every muscle clenched as tight as possible), but aside from a few food sensitivities/allergies that I grew out of by the time I was a teenager I've never experienced any chronic gastrointestinal problems or any issues with migraines. My parents told me that their doctor at the time said it might have been neurological/sensory related, which makes more sense in my case as I was (and still am to a lesser degree) sensitive to certain textures or physical sensations, or to too much loud noise. (Note, these sensitivities are not related to autism in my case.) I was hoping this video might give me some answers, but it just gave me more questions.

  36. I wonder if colic symptoms will start to persist into month 6 now that changes are being made as to when to start giving babies food. 4 months is the previous recommendation. Adding food will change the gut biome and could be why it generally ends at this age.

  37. Well babies cry for a lot of different reasons and not all babies with colic have to have the same cause for their crying.

  38. Dairy has been known to cause problems (such as canker sores) even in people who test negative for any intolerance or allergy. Removal of dairy removed the problem, ingesting dairy again made the problem return.

  39. I suffer from migraines. There are only 3 things that will abort them; capsaicin, sumatriptan, and taking a large dump. Yes, evacuating my bowels can instantly cure a migraine, so there's some link there I think. I also suffer from IBS.

  40. This is fascinating. Of my three children, only the middle one was colicky, and it was severe. That child also developed classic migraines with vomiting later in childhood.

  41. I was a colicky baby. I've never had any experience with migraines, at least not within range of memory, but I have suffered from heartburn since I was a child and I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome 3 years ago. I've suspected for some time that these are all connected. This reaffirms my suspicions.

  42. Given our gut is literally our second brain, it makes sense that when something is wrong with one something will be wrong with the other.

  43. I discovered migraines at the age of 33. One month later I was diagnosed with addison and hypothyroidia(sp?). Once treated the migraines were gone.

  44. My eldest had colic she would sleep for 30 min then wake and cry for hours.This lasted till she were 6 months. I ran on auto pilot she wouldn't breast feed so was bottle feed which made it worse.I lived like a zombie for those 6 months.She didn't sleep right threw night till she were 1

  45. Yes, there is a very clear correlation between crying babies and migraines. A baby crying, and cause severe stress and lack of sleep inducing a migraine in a parent or other family members. And a crying baby is oh so much more wonderful, when one has a migraine. Oh wait, you're talking about migraines in an infant causing colic. Okay sure
    But if you're going to talk about migraines, you should get the basic straight. A migraine is not a headache. A migraine is a seizure, in which a headache is a symptom. One of the most common other types of migraines are stomach migraines, most commonly found in children. Basically inside of the Ring issues in the brain, it seems to manifest in the stomach causing vomiting and gastrointestinal distress.
    I certainly had more stomach migraines before graduating to the full adult ones in my teenage years.

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