More Support for Mom, Less Colic Risk for Baby

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Colic is an issue many families struggle with and a medical complication that can be extremely frustrating. Not only do doctors still not understand what exactly causes it, but the way colic presents between babies varies drastically as well.

Some babies may scream for a few hours at night, while others might cry inconsolably all day and all night. Many infants with colic also have acid reflux, which can be silent or present with vomiting and/or painful gas.

All in all, colic is not just a fussy baby condition. It's a largely misunderstood medical condition that can cause a lot of stress for both babies and families. But a new study is showing that one of the most simple interventions can make a huge difference for both parents and babies. 

What Is Colic?

Colic is marked by a distinguishing set of "threes":

  • It begins when a baby is three weeks old (or younger).
  • It is marked by at least three hours of crying per day. 
  • It occurs for at least three days a week.

In the most basic of explanations, colic occurs when a baby cries more than normal—cries that are usually higher intensity and/or accompanied by feeding difficulties, spitting up, or other fussy traits. Many times, colic clears up on its own at around one year of age. 

Many families who have had babies with colic report feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, and extremely stressed. Not all families are able to cure colic and many go through long periods of sleep deprivation and isolation.

The Benefits of Support

As stressful as colic can be for both babies who have it and family members who care for them, a new study has found that one of the simplest (and free!) interventions available to families makes a huge difference. It turns out that mothers who have some kind of support, especially from partners or the baby's father, also have babies with lower rates of colic.

A study in the journal Child looked at over 3,000 families and studied how much of an impact support can have on mothers and babies when it comes to colic. The researchers looked specifically at three types of support:

  1. General social support during pregnancy and after birth for the mother
  2. Relationship support, described by the happiness of the relationship between a mother and her partner
  3. The amount of support from a mother's partner in routine newborn care

For the purposes of the study, the researchers interviewed mothers by phone both during and after their pregnancies and defined colic as three or more hours of crying a day. Overall, 11.6 percent of the mothers reported that their babies had colic. The most interesting finding of the study, however, was that all three forms of support—social support, relationship support, and partner support with the baby—were all associated with lower rates of reported colic.

This study can have a few different implications for families. It doesn't necessarily mean that babies of mothers with support actually have less physical colic, but it could mean that mothers with high levels of support simply are able to better cope emotionally and physically with the situation.

It could also mean that mothers with more support are more able to access resources that help them deal with their babies' colic, such as a partner who will drive them to the doctor's office or who will manage some of the feedings.

On the other side, the study could point to a link between pregnancy support and rates of colic. Could there be something that happens to a baby's development during pregnancy that leads to the onset of colic? Could a mom who has better relationships have lower stress levels or some kind of hormone that helps protect her baby from developing colic? We don't fully know the answers, but at least one fact is certain: more support for mothers, no matter the form, is always a good thing.

Source:

Alexander, C. P., Zhu, J., Paul, I. M., and Kjerulff, K. H. (2017) Fathers make a difference: positive relationships with mother and baby in relation to infant colic. Child: Care, Health and Development, doi: 10.1111/cch.12445.

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