12 Ways To Prevent Colic In Babies During Pregnancy
Table Of Contents
When I was in charge of the Maternity Acupuncture Clinic at the Whittington Hospital in London, the number 1 fear of pregnant women was that their baby could develop colic. Therefore, they asked me, if there are things that they can do during pregnancy to prevent baby colic. So, I did some research and found some very interesting facts.
Most parents deal with baby colic once the baby is born. However, at that point, it could already be too late! Given the great burden of baby colic for the parents and the whole family, it could pay off to take action during pregnancy. So, read on if you want to know exactly what you can do during pregnancy to prevent colic in babies according to science!
1 Avoid Smoking During Pregnancy!
Smoking during pregnancy is one of only very few topics in science, which – for a change – is not controversial. Ask whoever practitioner you want, they will all recommend to avoid smoking while you are pregnant. That’s because the negative effects of smoking on a fetus have been well documented in countless scientific studies!
One of those negative effects could be developing baby colic according to a scientific study from 2001 (1). The scientists compared babies of non-smoking women with babies of women who were smoking during pregnancy.
They found that the babies of the smoking group had a 2.1 times higher risk of developing colic in their early life. That was for mothers who smoked 15 cigarettes and more per day during pregnancy.
A later study (2008), including 1625 mothers, came to the same conclusion (2). The scientists found that the odds of baby colic are 1.74 higher if the mother is smoking during pregnancy.
In other words, both studies find that smoking during pregnancy seems to increase the risk of babies to develop colic. Therefore, avoid smoking during pregnancy if you want to decrease the likelihood of your baby to develop colic!
2 Be Careful With Nicotine Replacement Therapies During Pregnancy!
Avoid smoking during pregnancy?
What seems so easy for a non-smoking woman can actually be a great burden for a smoking mother. The temptation to smoke even during pregnancy is big!
Of course, it is by no means that those mothers care less about the well-being of their baby. But there is a reason why they call it “addiction”.
For many of them, avoiding smoking during pregnancy is just not possible. That is why many expecting mothers start Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRT) during pregnancy.
Such therapies make use of products like nicotine patches, nasal sprays, inhalers etc. These tools give small, steady doses of nicotine to help stop cravings (3).
Naturally, one may think that such therapies are a great alternative to smoking. But read on:
A study involving 63.128 Danish babies investigated, if pre-birth exposure to nicotine can increase the likelihood of baby colic (4).
Yet again, they found that the odds of developing colic are 1.3 greater if the mother is smoking during pregnancy. So far, nothing new.
However, surprisingly, they also found that the odds of babies to develop colic were even greater (1.6) when their mother was on NRT during pregnancy!
So, it seems that nicotine itself is the problem that promotes colic in babies.
Therefore, avoiding smoking during pregnancy may not be good enough! If you really want to decrease the likelihood of your baby to develop colic, ban nicotine entirely from your life!
3 Avoid Passive Smoking During Pregnancy!
A study from 2000 found evidence that environmental tobacco smoke can be detrimental for your baby’s birth weight (5)! And I am going to explain in just a minute how a baby’s birth weight is related to colic.
Definition: What is environmental tobacco smoke?
Scientists compared the birth weight of babies of non-smoking women to the weight of babies of women who were smoking during pregnancy. Indeed, they found that the birth weight of the babies of smoking women was lower by 119 grams.
So far, no surprise, since the negative effects of smoking have been well documented in countless studies.
However, the actual surprise is this:
If non-smoking mothers were heavily exposed to environmental smoke during pregnancy, their babies’ birth weight was lower by 189 grams on average compared to babies of non-smoking mothers who were not exposed to environmental smoke.
Even more surprising, their birth weight was also 70 grams lower compared to babies of mothers who were smoking during pregnancy!
So, why should you care about the birth weight of your baby?
It’s simple! Scientists found that babies with a lower birth weight are more likely to develop colic (6).
The take-away is this:
It seems that it is not only sufficient to avoid nicotine during pregnancy! You could also be required to eliminate any exposure to environmental tobacco smoke at home or at work! Both could help decrease the likelihood of your baby to develop colic according to scientists!
4 Avoid Stress During Pregnancy!
However, sometimes, people are not even aware of the fact that they are stressed. Plus, some stress out for no apparent reason.
That is why it is important to live your life in a more conscious way! Observe yourself and keep track of everything that causes stress in your body! And don’t forget to keep track of the things that relax you too!
This will help you reduce the number of unnecessary stressors (i.e. things that cause stress in your body)! And it will also help you to put more emphasis on the relaxing moments in your life.
And here is why this is so important during pregnancy:
Effect Of Stress During Pregnancy On Baby Colic
A study from 2003 investigated if stress during late pregnancy can cause more crying and fussing in babies up to 20 weeks of age (7).
Indeed, the scientists found a trend for babies of mothers who were highly stressed during pregnancy to show more crying and fussing. Crying and fussing was particularly severe during the first 7 weeks of the babies’ lives.
Side Note: How was "stress" measured in this study?
Effect Of “Life Stress” During Pregnancy On Baby Colic
In 2006, another study investigated a similar subject. The study included 86 pregnant mothers (8). The scientists analyzed if “life stress” during pregnancy can cause “excessive crying” in babies during the first six months of their life.
Side Note: What is “life stress”?
They contained questions about “negative life events” of the mothers during pregnancy. For example, an expecting mother may not have the support of a caring partner, which is considered a “negative life event”.
Accordingly, “life stress” was defined as the sum of all negative life events. The more negative life events, the higher the “life stress” levels in the mother.
They too found that babies of mothers with higher levels of stress were crying more / were more fussy during the first 6 months. Crying and fussing was particularly severe in babies between 3 to 6 months of age.
Please note: technically, “excessive crying” alone may not necessarily qualify as “colic”. However, I still decided to include this study.
Effect Of Work-Related Stress On Colic
A study from 2004 investigated if a demanding work situation during pregnancy increases the odds of developing baby colic (9).
Indeed, the scientists found that babies of mothers who worked in “non-manual professions” had higher odds of developing colic.
Definition: What are non-manual jobs?
Note that by “non-manual”, the scientists mean jobs which involve using your mind, rather than your hands or physical strength.
Personally, I neither like the word “non-manual”, nor its definition! I cannot think of a single job which would not require you to use your mind! Can you?
To sum up, being stressed during pregnancy could trigger colic symptoms in your baby during her early life! Therefore, try to avoid stress by identifying the stressors in your life and eliminating them!
A good way of dealing with stressors is to learn relaxation techniques! For example, yoga for pregnant women is quite popular! You may find it helpful too, in order to calm down during this anyway stressful and exciting period!
5 Seek Help If You Have Emotional Problems!
The Effect Of General Emotional Problems On Baby Colic
Scientists investigated if emotional problems of a mother are linked to excessive crying in her baby later on (10).
Again, “excessive crying” may technically not necessarily qualify as “colic”. However, excessive crying is a certainly a symptom of colic. So let’s have a look at their findings!
They found that certain emotional problems of an expecting mother can increase the likelihood of excessive crying in babies. Such problems are:
- Depressive symptoms
- Anxiety related to the pregnancy
- Parenting stress
- Job strain
The odds of a baby to cry excessively were between 1.69 and 2.23 greater if the mother was facing any of those problems. Even worse: if the mother was exposed to 3 or 4 risk factors at the same time, the odds were almost 5 times greater.
Likewise, other scientists found that there is a threefold increased risk of developing colic if the mother is under “psychosocial distress” during pregnancy (11). By “psychological distress”, they mean behavioral, emotional or social distress.
The authors conclude that distress during pregnancy in general increases the risk to develop baby colic.
The Effect Of Anxiety On Baby Colic
A Swedish study from 2005 investigated, if anxiety during pregnancy can cause baby colic (12).
They found that high so-called “trait anxiety” of mothers during pregnancy seems to increase the risk of developing colic considerably.
The odds for babies of mothers exposed to high trait anxiety were 2.04 greater compared to babies of mothers with no such anxiety.
Side Note: What is "Trait Anxiety"?
In order to understand what “trait anxiety” means, you first need to understand the term “state anxiety”:
State anxiety represents psychological and physiological reactions related to a particular negative situation in a specific moment. For example, a woman may feel nervous during pregnancy because the estimated date of birth is getting closer and closer.
Trait anxiety, on the other hand, refers to a specific trait of personality of a person. This trait explains the differences in people who suffer from the same kind of “state anxiety” (13).
For example, woman A is nervous because she is afraid of the pain from giving birth that she is expecting. Woman B, on the other hand, is nervous simply because she is so excited to finally get to know her little baby! Both show the same kind of state anxiety, but they differ in their trait anxiety.
Overall, the scientists concluded that if expecting mothers suffer from anxiety disorders, there is a higher risk of their babies to suffer from colic.
This was also the result of a German study in 2014, which included 306 pregnant women (14). It was found that babies of mothers with anxiety disorders during pregnancy were at higher risk of excessive crying. The odds of excessive crying were threefold (3.02) if the mother suffers from anxiety.
What Can You Do If You Have Emotional Problems And/Or Anxiety?
Pregnant women usually receive lots of help from all kinds of organizations, so use that help! Accept the fact that you might have emotional problems and don’t be ashamed of them! After all, you are not alone! Millions of other expecting mothers go through the exact same phase!
If, for some reasons, professional help is not an option, make sure you have at least some friend or family member you can talk to! But keep in mind, that they cannot replace the professional support that you would receive from a trained person!
6 Trust In Yourself!
Side Note: What is "Self-Efficacy"?
The scientists discovered that babies of mothers who were highly stressed during pregnancy cried less when their mother had high levels of self-efficacy. On the other hand, the babies of mothers with low self-efficacy had a higher likelihood of crying and fussing.
How Can That Be Explained?
As we know from previous studies, stress during pregnancy can increase the likelihood of excessive crying in babies. However, it seems that if a mother is confident about the challenges ahead, that attitude has a positive impact on her baby. In other words, high levels of self-efficacy of a mother may decrease the risk of her baby to develop colic.
The lesson for you is this:
Trust in yourself and your abilities! Keep in mind that billions of other mothers successfully managed the challenge that you are about to take on!
Accept the fact that things won’t be perfect! You will make mistakes along the way, like every other parent out there! That’s okay! Allow yourself to make mistakes! After all, you are only human! Seek professional help if you think that the challenges overwhelm you!
7 Come To Terms With Your Childhood Traumata
If a mother went through traumatic events in childhood, her cortisol levels during pregnancy are more likely to be elevated.
Side Note: What is "Cortisol"?
Of course, this study does not link childhood trauma directly to baby colic.
However, we have seen from previous studies that babies of mothers with high levels of cortisol during pregnancy (i.e. mothers with high levels of stress) are more likely to cry excessively in their early life (7).
What Can You Do?
If you went through a traumatic event during childhood, seek professional help if you have not already done so!
Luckily, in many countries, there are programs and support groups sponsored by the government. Do not hesitate to make use of such programs and groups! They are here to help and ultimately make you feel better.
Keep in mind that the beneficiaries of such actions are not only yourself, but also your baby!
8 Tell The Father Of Your Baby To Stand His Man!
It is obvious that a woman must cope with all the physical aspects of a pregnancy. However, it would be wrong to believe that the father of her baby does not have ways to support her during pregnancy. In fact, recent studies found that the father can make a huge difference!
Supporting A Pregnant Woman To Avoid Baby Colic
Side Note: What was the study all about?
The same was found for happiness in a mother’s relationship. In other words, the happier a mother in her relationship during pregnancy, the lower the risk of her baby to develop colic.
Finally, the more the partner gets involved with newborn care, the lower the risk of the baby to develop colic. But this is obviously a post-pregnancy matter. I just mention it for your information.
Living With A Pregnant Woman To Avoid Baby Colic
Depressive Fathers Have An Impact Too
Could it be that the mental state of a father can influence the likelihood of a baby to develop colic? This is the very subject of a study by scientists from the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam (19).
Interestingly, they found that depressive symptoms in fathers are a risk factor for their baby to develop colic too.
The scientists were unable to come up with an explanation for this phenomenon. However, it could be that it is caused by genetic transmission. If that’s true, unfortunately, it is something that is out of your control.
But since the scientists can only speculate about the actual reason for this phenomenon, it could pay off for the father to deal with his depressions in order to avoid colic in the baby later on.
Fathers Make A Difference
To sum up, fathers seem to have an influence on the development of colic in babies too. And that influence does not only just start once the baby is born! Therefore, tell your partner to be there for you! Not only just once the baby is born, but from the very first day of your pregnancy!
If the father of your baby suffers from depressive symptoms, he should seek professional help! Although support groups and organizations mainly focus on expecting mothers, more and more professional help is offered to daddies who need psychological care! Ask your doctor or a member of staff of the hospital in which you expect to give birth!
And finally, keep the following in mind: you will have to take care of one baby already! You don’t need an even bigger baby additionally in your household! It is important for the father of your baby to stand his man!
The moment he fathered the child, he committed to his own needs being inferior to the needs of his offspring. It is important that he remembers that!
9 Be Careful With Iron Supplementation During Pregnancy!
A recent study compared babies of mothers with and without iron supplementation during pregnancy (20). Interestingly, they found that the babies of mothers with iron supplementation had a higher risk of suffering from colic.
If you are on iron supplementation, make sure that the GP who prescribed the supplementation is aware of your pregnancy! Ask him/her for advice on how you should proceed given the fact that you are pregnant!
However, never just cut down your dose or refuse to continue the therapy by yourself!
Keep in mind that there is most likely a good reason for your GP to prescribe iron supplementation in the first place! Discontinuing the supplementation could cause negative effects for yourself and also for your baby, if your body urgently needs iron!
10 Lose Weight Before Getting Pregnant!
The same study (20) found that mothers of colic babies had a higher pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) on average (25.38). In comparison, the average BMI of the mothers of non-colicky babies was only 23.83.
Therefore, one possible way to prevent colic in babies could be losing weight before getting pregnant!
11 Avoid Cheese During Pregnancy!
Moreover, the same study found a link between the “perinatal” consumption of cheese by the mother and the development of colic in her baby (20).
Note that the term “perinatal” is related to the time (usually weeks) immediately before and after birth. Accordingly, it seems that it does not only pay off to avoid cheese during the weeks right before pregnancy, but also during the weeks after birth.
Please note that it is unclear why the consumption of cheese by a mother would lead to colic in babies. However, if there is the slightest chance that it helps avoiding colic in babies, why not giving it a try?
12 Seek Treatment For Your Migraines!
A study from 2012 found that if the mother has a history of migraine, her baby is 2.6 times more likely to suffer from colic (21).
Another study came to a similar conclusion (20). The scientists found that a mother’s gynecological history (including suffering from migraine) seems somehow connected with the development of colic in her baby.
Moreover, some scientists assume that infant colic may be an early life manifestation of migraine in the child (22).
And indeed, a study (23) found that children and adolescents between 6 and 18 years with migraine were more likely to have experienced colic as a baby than those without migraine. This is true for both, migraine with and without aura.
What Can You Do?
Unfortunately, however, treating migraine is a difficult task. I have suffered from terrible migraines myself for more than a decade. Luckily, I discovered TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) which was able to help me. I am even more pleased that I have been able to help many women along the way with TCM.
With that said, unfortunately, I have also met women who I was not able to help. So there you have it: my full disclosure! Migraines are just a terrible condition and very difficult to treat.
Yes, You Can Have A C-Section!
Many expecting mothers have asked me, if their baby is likely to develop colic if they have a C-section. Frankly, I don’t know the answer. However, I did some research. And I found a study which investigated if babies delivered by C-section are likely to develop colic pain (23).
The scientists who conducted the study did not find a link between Caesarean delivery and colic pain in babies.
To sum up, C-sections do not seem to increase the risk of developing colic in babies.
Since we don’t know the exact cause, we can only try our best to prevent colic in babies during pregnancy. There is no guarantee for success. But given the great burden of baby colic for the parents – in my opinion – it is worth trying!
Here Is What You Can Do:
Avoid active and passive exposure to tobacco smoke, and nicotine in general, during pregnancy! Also, keep in mind that nicotine replacement therapies may not be the solution to the problem. That is, because the problem is not only the tobacco, but the nicotine too!
Next, avoid stress during pregnancy! If avoiding stress is impossible, keep in mind that self-efficacy or the trust in your own abilities that you will be able to cope with the great challenge of having a baby could still prevent colic in your baby!
If you have emotional problems, suffer from anxiety or have gone through childhood traumata, seek professional help!
Moreover, tell the father of your baby to be there for you! Bearing the physical challenge of having a baby is your burden to carry. However, this does not mean that your partner cannot do everything in his power to support you throughout this difficult period!
If the father suffers from depression, tell him to seek professional help! It could help decrease the likelihood of your baby to suffer from colic.
Furthermore, be careful with iron supplementation during pregnancy and the consumption of cheese during the last couple of weeks of your pregnancy. Both could promote colic in your baby.
Also, if your body mass index is above average, you may want to lose weight before getting pregnant!
And finally, if you or the father of your child suffer from migraine, go seek treatment! Migraine in parents could cause infant colic (which could be an early manifestation of migraine).
Whatever your decision, keep in mind that even if you follow the advice from this blog post, there is still no guarantee that your baby won’t develop colic. There are just too many potential factors which could cause baby colic.
If you have done your best and your baby still develops colic, don’t be discouraged or disappointed! The good thing about baby colic is this: it won’t last forever!
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Medical Disclaimer: The information on this page is not intended to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treate or cure any disease! It is not personal medical advice. We recommend that you ask a doctor whenver you are looking for medical advice!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nathalie has 15+ years of experience in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture, reflexology, Shonishin baby massage techniques, Western and Eastern massage techniques (including TUINA), as well as herbal medicine and nutrition.
She has a degree in TCM (including nutrition) and a postgraduate diploma in Herbal Medicine. Moreover, Nathalie used to work for the highly respected Asante Academy in North London and was in charge of the Maternity Acupuncture Clinic at the Whittington hospital in London. She is also a member of the British Acupuncture Council, the official regulatory body for TCM in the UK.
Today, Nathalie runs her own company and has a broad customer base in London, where she specializes in the treatment of babies and children as well as gynecologic and fertility-related issues in women.
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