Women with migraines are 2.5 times more likely to have colicky babies, according to a new UCSF study. (Flickr: London looks)
Women with migraines are 2.6 times more likely to have colicky babies, according to a new UCSF study. (Flickr: London looks)

I had a 10-hour migraine yesterday. It was terrible (obviously). So I found it rather morosely coincidental when halfway through the day, as I lay on the couch feeling sorry for myself, I checked my email and noticed this press release from the University of California, San Francisco: “Babies’ Colic Linked to Mothers’ Migraines.”

Colic is excessive crying in a baby that isn’t caused by a medical problem. My mother used to get migraines, and I was a colicky baby. I definitely get migraines, so if I have a baby, will she have colic? According to the results of the UCSF study, I’m about two-and-a-half times more likely to have a baby with colic than a woman who doesn’t suffer from migraines. Great. Starting a family one day suddenly seems even more daunting.

“I hope no one will alter their family-planning based on these study results,” laughed lead author and UCSF child neurologist Amy Gelfand over the phone in response to my colicky baby concerns. “Remember that colic is a time-limited phenomenon, babies do grow out of it by three months of age, typically. And if they do go on to develop migraines later in life, we do have effective treatments to help.”

That’s comforting. But why is there a link between colicky babies and migraines?

Gelfand said doctors still don’t know what makes colicky babies cry so much, but UCSF researchers do have a theory: adults with migraines have genetic mutations in their brains which make them more sensitive to their environment. That same mutation in babies may increase the risk of them being born with colic.

“People who get migraines are more sensitive to normal stimuli like light and sound, particularly during their migraine attacks,” Gelfand said. “Our hypothesis is that babies who inherit those migraine genes are perhaps more sensitive to normal stimuli than other babies. So the bright lights they’re seeing after birth, and the loud sounds, and being touched, and various other stimuli may be overstimulating to them more so than to infants who don’t have migraine genes.”

Gelfans said UCSF researchers plan to follow colicky babies over time to see if they go on to develop migraine headaches.


Shuka Kalantari

Shuka Kalantari is a health and culture reporter living in the Bay Area. She is Outreach Coordinator for KQED Public Radio's Health Dialogues, where she works with under-served communities throughout California, and does reporting for the web and radio. She is also a producer for KPFA Pacifica Radio's Voices of the Middle East and North Africa (VOMENA).Shuka's focus is in health disparities and health policy, with a particular emphasis on Middle Eastern, North African, & Latino communities. A Philosophy & Spanish Studies graduate from UC Santa Cruz, Kalantari received a Masters degree in Multimedia Health and Medicine Reporting from The City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Journalism in 2007, and is the proud recipient of theĀ 2009 California Health Journalism Fellowship and the 2010 AHCJ Ethnic Media Fellowship.

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