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Colic and Migraines

If you\’ve ever had a baby with colic, you know how miserable it can be. Unfortunately, as frustrating as colic can be, we still don’t really know what causes it, which makes treatment difficult. Recent research, however, has uncovered an intriguing link between colic and infant migraines.

A study published in the April 17, 2013, Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than 72 percent of children who have migraines had colic as a baby. Colic is defined as inconsolable crying for more than three hours a day, at least three days a week.

Doctors routinely prescribe anti-gas medications or changing a formula-fed baby’s formula for colicky babies, thinking the pain might be gastrointestinal in nature. Unfortunately, these interventions often don’t provide relief. If colic is actually a pain syndrome related to migraines, however, it could mean colic requires a totally different kind of treatment.

In a related article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Drs. Phyllis Zee and Leon Epstein suggest that colicky babies may be crying due to nausea, head pain, or both, but not because of gas pain. They also noted that, just as not enough sleep can trigger migraine, sleep disturbances may be a trigger for colic.

Until babies are around three months of age, they are still developing a natural sleep rhythm, or circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a twenty-four-hour cycle that influences sleep cycles, hormones, and various other bodily functions. Coincidentally, about the time a baby has an established circadian rhythm, episodes of colic also decrease or cease altogether.

These recent studies join additional studies also supporting a possible link between colic and migraines. A 2012 study conducted by the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine found that moms with migraines are more than twice as likely to have colicky babies than moms who don\’t have migraines.

While these studies show a link, they do not offer any concrete solutions — migraines themselves are notoriously difficult to treat, even in adults. However, if colic is in some way related to a baby\’s sleep rhythms and the development of migraines, it might make sense to follow the same advice given to migraine patients. This means creating an environment conducive to sleep and avoiding lights and loud noises as your baby starts to wind down at night. During the day, provide activity and plenty of bright light. This may help your baby’s circadian rhythm develop faster, leading to a shorter period of colic.


  • Journal of the American Medical Association
  • Association Between Childhood Migraines and History of Infantile Colic.
    Journal of the American Medical Association
  • Infantile Colic and Migraine.
    National Institute of General Medical Sciences
  • Circadian Rhythms Fact Sheet.
    University of California, San Francisco
  • Babies’ Colic Linked to Mothers’ Migraines.
  • Maternal Migraine and the Colicky baby: New Research Suggests a link.

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