It must be a lot of fun to be a scientist and study things that are not understood, to try and make sense of them. This is what I was thinking when I read a recent report linking infant colic with mothers who suffer from migraine. How in the world could these things be related? Colic is defined as attacks of excessive spells of crying and distress in early infancy for no apparent reason. Similarly, migraine are attacks of severe debilitating head pain associated with fatigue, noise and light sensitivity, and incapacitation that occur for no apparent reason. I am imagining that the designers of the migraine/colic study saw some common features of colic and migraine and wondered,”Could it be that they relate?” Statistics say they are.
The authors of this interesting study did a retrospective statistical analysis where they looked for an association between mothers having documented migraine and having an infant who met the definition of colic. Indeed, they did find that if a mother had a diagnosis of migraine, her infant was 2.6 times more likely to have the behavior that meets the criteria for colic.
Even though the authors found the statistical association between these two episodic distressful symptoms, they really didn’t explain why this would be. I have my own Doc Smo theory, however. I believe that the common feature that tiny babies share with adult women who have migraine is a predisposing, genetic reactive temperament. Yes, most psychologists agree that humans have a temperament just like animals. Listen to the description of the temperament that researchers find in a child with migraine; “Children with migraine seem to be more anxious, sensitive, deliberate, cautious, fearful, vulnerable to frustration, tidy, and less physically enduring than comparisons.” (1)(2) Doesn’t it make sense if you were an infant with an anxious, sensitive temperament that you might be overwhelmed easily by the intense physical stimuli of life outside the womb, especially in the first few months of life. These babies mothers, with the same genetic temperament as their babies, may shut down periodically with a migraine when life is very stressful in order to protect their sanity. Screaming may be an infant’s way of blocking out external stimuli they find noxious just as a severe headache my protect an adult’s brain from stimuli it finds irritating. It is my belief that the temperament we are born with is partly genetic and explains a lot of how we react to the world. I believe this colic study confirms my suspicions.
I would love to hear your comments and thoughts at my blog, www.docsmo.com. Until next time.
Written by Paul Smolen M.D.