Colicky Babies May Later Be at Higher Risk for ADHD

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All babies cry, and the reason for the crying is not always immediately apparent. However, if a baby cries excessively and has difficulty sleeping and feeding, and no medical condition such as reflux is causing the symptoms, a pediatrician may diagnose the baby with colic. These fussy, colicky babies may later grow up to have behavioral problems in childhood, including attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Risk for Behavioral Issues is Greatest For Families Without Support

Close to 20% of all babies show signs of “regulatory issues” such as persistent and unsoothable bouts of crying, sleeping issues, and feeding problems such as food refusal, vomiting or swallowing problems during the first year of life, according to background information presented in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood. Most of these symptoms are transient and infants will adjust by the time they reach preschool.

Researcher Mirja Helen Hemmi of the University of Basel (Switzerland) and colleagues analyzed 22 studies that looked at infant regulatory problems in almost 2,000 children. Ten of the studies reviewed the consequences of excessive crying, four focused on sleeping problems, three studied infant feeding issues, and the remaining five covered multiple regulatory issues.

Read: Premature Infants at Increased Risk for Attention Deficit Disorder

The risk of behavioral problems was highest among infants who experienced problems in several categories, and those who were at greatest risk were also more likely to be from troubled families, including those with psychosocial problems and problems interacting with each other.

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Most commonly, the behavioral problems were linked to ADHD, aggressive or destructive behavior, and/or temper tantrums.

Children with “persistent regulatory problems in families with other problems may require early interventions to minimize or prevent the long-term consequences of infant regulatory problems,” concludes Hemmi.

Read: Restricted Elimination Diet Could Help ADHD Symptoms in Children

New parents who have babies with persistent crying or with feeding and sleeping problems should keep a “Colic Diary”, says Dr. William Sears. This is helpful to uncover clues that the pediatrician can use to diagnose a hidden cause of colic. Specifically record such notes as:

• What seems to trigger the outbursts of crying? What turns them off?
• Do they occur at roughly the same time each day? Does baby awaken in pain at night? How long do these bouts last? How frequently do they occur?
• Are the crying jags getting better, worse, or staying about the same?
• Does there seem to be a consistent relationship between the method of feeding—type of formula, type of bottle, type of nipple—duration, or position of feeding? What changes in feeding techniques or formulas have you tried? Does your baby spit up after feeding? How often? How soon after feeding, and with how much force? If you're breastfeeding, do you notice any correlation between what you eat and how much your baby fusses?
• Is your baby bloated, does he seem to gulp a lot of air or pass a lot of gas?
• Record your baby's bowel movements: how frequent are they? Are they easy to pass - soft? hard? Do you notice any changes in the frequency or characteristics of the stools in response to a change in feeding?
• What changes or techniques have you tried in an effort to soothe your baby? What seems to work? What doesn't?

Then, take the diary to the pediatrician, specifically requesting an extended office visit so the doctor has time to fully understand the baby’s needs. Treating medical conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux or food sensitivities can relieve the baby’s pain, should there be an issue. Parents may also learn what overstimulates a baby and can take steps to minimize the discomfort, such as lighting, temperature, and bedding or clothing issues.

In many cases, unfortunately, the baby may just need time to “grow out” of the fussy behavior, so parents should find ways to better cope, beginning with understanding that it is not the parents fault and that they are not being “bad parents”. Mothers and fathers should share responsibilities so that one person is not facing the bulk of the symptoms by themselves. Parents should also seek extended family support so they can take some time for themselves. “When parents can be helped, everybody calms down,” developmental psychologist Penny Glass PhD tells WebMD.

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