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Baby colic: How your newborn baby’s gut impacts their health

By Cradlewise Staff

What if we told you that baby colic doesn’t just put a kink—er, several—into your eight hours of beauty sleep? Like many issues that can pop up during your baby’s first months as a newborn, colic may have something to do with your baby’s gut health. 

Colic definition … and the news no parent is ready for

Babies cry. It’s how they communicate their needs and a wide range of feelings that they don’t yet have words for.

And then there’s baby colic. Which is more like continual crying that you can’t quite figure out. The classic baby colic definition goes by the rule of three. This means:

  • Crying for more than 3 hours each day
  • Which occurs more than 3 days each week
  • In a pattern lasting more than 3 weeks 

If you’ve checked all of the above (and then some), UGH. We’re sorry. And also, you’re not alone. By some accounts, 10 to 26 percent of newborns have baby colic.

While colic tends to resolve on its own by the time your newborn is 12 to 16 months old, that still means up to 4 months of crying that you can’t fix…try as you may. Throw in some sleep deprivation and “phantom crying” while showering, and this can take a toll on any parent’s mental health. Fortunately, there’s evidence that baby colic and baby gut health are closely related, which means there may be something you can do about it.

Does my baby have colic?

Before we dive into what causes colic in babies, it’s worth running through baby colic symptoms. Common baby colic symptoms include:

  • Excessive, inconsolable crying 
  • Crying and fussiness that is unrelated to fever, hunger, or the need for a diaper change 
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Flushed skin
  • Stiff arms and legs, clenched fists, or arched back
  • Abdominal tension
  • Crying at a predictable time, such as during the late afternoon or evening

If you suspect colic, you want to make sure that your baby isn’t struggling with other issues, like baby reflux or illness. Be sure to reach out to your pediatrician if you notice fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite.

What causes colic in babies?

While professionals still haven’t quite pinpointed what causes colic in babies, there are a lot of associations between baby colic and other health issues. 

For example, colic in babies appears to be related to:

  • Infant reflux
  • Food allergies, including cow milk protein allergy
  • Feeding patterns, such as overfeeding, underfeeding, or infrequent burping
  • Childhood migraine
  • Family stress or maternal anxiety (admittedly, this may be a chicken or egg situation) 
  • Baby gut not yet mature 
  • Poor baby gut health

How a gut microbiome test can help parents

As we mentioned earlier, baby gut health seems to have a relationship to baby colic. For example, if you were to run a baby gut health test using a stool sample, you may find lots of unfriendly bacteria if your baby has colic. Some of these unfriendly bacteria, like Escherichia coli and Klebsiella, produce gas that can lead to tummy pain. 

What’s more, you’re less likely to see high levels of protective bacteria, like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, in colicky babies. After testing your baby’s stool with a gut microbiome test, you’ll get a chance to see what kind of bacteria.

Be sure to shop for a baby gut health test like Tiny Health, that uses shotgun metagenomic sequencing technology, which is able to detect the largest number of microbes (think bacteria, yeast, fungi, parasites, and more) at the highest resolution. 

Other baby gut tests on the market either don’t use metrics designed specifically for a baby’s first 1,000 days, or they use outdated technology. Shotgun metagenomic sequencing means more accurate results to help you figure out what’s going on.

If you’re concerned about colic or reflux, be sure to also check in with your pediatrician. 

Gut microbiome testing gives results from a wellness test. It does not provide a diagnosis. This means that it can provide parents with health associations that are based on research, which you can share with your pediatrician. But make sure to run any medication or supplements by your primary care provider before offering them to your baby. 

Baby gut health and baby sleep

If there’s a link between baby gut health and colic, then the potential impact on baby sleep is kind of a no-brainer. But let’s take a deeper look and see what the science says about the connection between baby gut health and baby sleep.

According to a 2022 study in Progress in Neurobiology, baby gut health can impact a baby’s sleep as early as three months old. For example, we know that babies with the most Bifidobacterium show fewer signs of “light sleep.” 

Remember Bifidobacterium? We mentioned them earlier because they’re an important group of protective bacteria that can help strengthen a baby’s immune system. And as it turns out, high levels of Bifidobacterium may help protect against colic and light sleep. 

Fortunately, gut microbiome tests like Tiny Health can help parents understand their baby’s Bifidobacterium levels and offer insight that can lead to better sleep. 

Another potentially awesome benefit? Establishing early gut health and getting proper rest as a baby may be linked to lifelong benefits. As the authors wrote, “As many adult diseases root in early childhood, leveraging protective factors of adequate sleep and age-appropriate gut microbiota in infancy could constitute a health promoting factor across the entire human lifespan.”

Better sleep and better health across the lifespan? As parents, that’s what we call a win-win. 

Sources:

  1. Colic—Symptoms, and causes. Mayo Clinic. 2022. “Colic
  2. Baby Colic Remedies For Infant Gut Health. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2012. “Colic
  3. Fussiness in infants. American Academy of Pediatrics. 1954. “Paroxysmal fussing in infancy, sometimes called ‘Colic.’”
  4. Microbiome in baby’s intestines. National Library of Medicine. 2016. “Characterizing the Intestinal Microbiome in Infantile Colic: Findings Based on an Integrative Review of the Literature.
  5. Infant colic. National Library of Medicine. 2017. “Tools assessment and diagnosis to infant colic: a systematic review.”
  6. Gut microbiome in infants. National Library of Medicine. 2022. “The Gastrointestinal Microbiome in Infant Colic: A Scoping Review.”
  7. Gut microbiome in toddler. National Library of Medicine. 2022. “Childhood Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: Neonate/Toddler.”
  8. Colic. Healthline. 2022. “Colic and Crying.”
  9. Infants with colic. National Library of Medicine. 2017. “Lactobacillus reuteri for Infants with Colic: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Clinical Trial.
  10. Infantile colic. National Library of Medicine. 2018. “Infantile Colic: New Insights into an Old Problem.”
  11. Impact of the gut microbiome in infant colic. Nature. 2018. “Impact of Lactobacillus reuteri colonization on gut microbiota, inflammation, and crying time in infant colic.
  12. Preventing infantile colic. National Library of Medicine. 2018.“Probiotics to prevent infantile colic.
  13. Infant colic. National Library of Medicine. 2018. “The therapeutic efficacy of Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis BB-12® in infant colic: A randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled trial.”
  14. Gut microbiota in the baby’s first year of life. Science Direct. 2022. “From Alpha Diversity to Zzz: Interactions among sleep, the brain, and gut microbiota in the first year of life.
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