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Potential Relationship Between Infant Colic and Migraine

This year’s annual scientific meeting for the American Headache Society occurred in Los Angeles, California on June 26-29, 2014. Among the plethora of exciting research presented was an interesting meta-analysis of several studies on infant colic and early migraine conducted by Dr. Amy Gelfand.1

Per the ICHD-III beta guidelines, colic refers to recurrent episodes of irritability, fussing, or crying. Episodes of colic must last at least 3 hours per day and occur on 3 or more days per week for 3 or more weeks. Colic peaks at 6 to 8 weeks of age and typically resolves by 4 months. A baby with colic can be extremely stressful for parents; according to research cited by Gelfand, 2.2% of parents with 1-month old babies admitted to shaking, slapping, or smothering their child to try to stop him/her from crying, and this actually increased to 5.6% by the time the infant reached 6 months of age. A better understanding of colic and how to treat it is critical.

The underlying cause of infant colic is not fully understood, yet most tend to focus on gastrointestinal (GI) issues. Unfortunately, the body of evidence for the link between GI issues and colic is not convincing. Some speculate that colic may be related to feeding, but research has shown that there is no difference in the incidence of colic between breast milk-fed and formula-fed babies. There is also no strong evidence that lactose intolerance is related to colic incidence, although an allergy to cow’s milk protein may play a role in a certain subset of infants.

In the primary analysis, Gelfand included 3 studies (with a total of 891 study participants). One of the studies included in the meta-analysis was actually conducted by Dr. Gelfand, and results indicated that infants whose mothers had migraines were 2.6 times more likely to have colic. For the meta-analysis, a pooled random effects model indicated a strong association between the infantile colic and migraine (the odds ratio was 5.6 [95% CI, 3.3-9.5; P=0.004]). Gelfand conducted a secondary analysis that added the results from 2 more studies (for a total of 1984 participants), and the association between infantile colic and migraine was also evident (OR 3.2; 95% CI, 1.4-7.5; P=0.007).

In a comment regarding this analysis, Dr. Peter Goadsby noted, “Holding the baby doesn’t require [US Food and Drug Administration] approval, and acetaminophen is a regular sort of medicine, so you can start to look at simple, cheap, globally useful things that could be done everywhere tomorrow. If that reduces even by a small amount the number of kids who have a problem like this, I’m happy with that.”

Further studies should be conducted to examine the relationship between infantile colic and migraine, as this may provide additional information for physicians and parents in the treatment of infants with colic.

Do you have any experience with an infant with colic? What are your thoughts on this latest research? Please share with us in the comments!

  1. Anderson P. Infant Colic May be Early Migraine. Medcape. July 3, 2014. Available at


  • Momma Doe
    5 years ago

    My family talks about my screaming so loudly as a baby that I could be heard down the block. I was born prematurely with hyaline membrane disease and a hemangioma right over my right eye where later would be my most painful spot during migraine. I was said to have been in obvious distress that didn’t calm down until I was three. Had what was probably abdominal migraine as a child but no one gave that diagnosis then, thirty years ago. Developed common migraine in my teens with continued abdominal component. I still have abdominal migraine as an adult as well as what my neuro calls complicated migraine, the usual migraine symptoms plus right side weakness and pain, difficulty speaking/ thinking,blurred vision, numbness and tingling in the extremities.I can have the abdominal pain either with or without the head pain. I almost never have the head pain alone though.

  • amholley
    5 years ago

    I had colic as a baby. My parents have told me stories of me crying for hours as a baby , and the only thing that would calm me was putting me in car seat and driving around for hours.
    I started having problems with my stomach (intestinal) and migraines around age ten. I am now diagnosed with IBS, anxiety and migraines. It’s ironic that one of the previous articles also talks about ear aches and correlation with migraines as I get red and burning sensation on my ear lobes before a migraine sets in (however doctor diagnosed me with a skin condition due to exposure to sun and stress).
    I also suffer from chronic back pain but there are days that I would rather the back pain than a migraine!
    I enjoy this site’s information and peoples responses, thank you.

  • Adam Gordon
    5 years ago

    The stories of my colic as a baby are legend in my family, as are the stories of the terrible migraines I still get at 57. And I’ve seen Peter Goadsby (who’s treatment for me worked, like just about all treatments I have gotten that have worked at all, for about 6-8 months before the migraines started reoccurring). I remember the first thing he said to me, “I never see men of your age in my office.” OK, thanks. Luckily, neither of my kids were colicky, so I have hopes that I’m the last one in the family with the gene.

  • Cher
    5 years ago

    Interesting article. My mother told me many stories of the nightmare I was as a baby with colic. I was formula fed and I was diagnosed with a “nervous stomach” since I vomited often and then cried bc I was hungry. Many hours of crying and fussiness as well. This finally stopped after a few months. I have had migraine since the age of 5 and chronic migraine for the past few years. I am 48 years old.

  • Marikay62
    5 years ago

    I’ve had migraines all my life. Unfortunately both of my kids had colic when they were infants, and YES they are following in my footsteps

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