Are Colicky Babies at Higher Risk of Developing ADHD?

We all know that babies cry, however the reason for crying is not always apparent right away. New research however is suggesting that excessive crying in correlation with sleeping problems and eating problems may lead to behavioral problems if no other medical condition is causing these issues such as reflux which is a common infant issue. If a pediatrician has landed on the diagnosis of colic, then that child may develop behavioral issues later in childhood. The most common of the behavioral issues is of course, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

This risk for behavioral problems appears to be the highest for families that do not have proper support. Nearly 20% of all infants show some signs of what are called ‘Ëœregulatory issues’ such as bouts of crying that cannot be soothed yet remains persistent, problems sleeping, and problems during feeding times such as refusing to eat, issues swallowing and vomiting during the first year. According to data presented in the Journal of Disease in Childhood, most of these symptoms will disappear or change by the time the child reaches preschool age.

Research was conducted at the University of Basel in Switzerland. Researcher Mirja Hemmi and colleagues evaluated 22 different studies that involved regulatory problems during infancy in nearly 2,000 babies. Ten of the studies evaluated the consequences of such behaviors as crying excessively, four of the studies involved sleeping issues, and three studies feeding issues during infancy. The remaining studies involved multiple issues.

The risk for behavioral issues such as ADHD appeared highest in the infants that experienced several regulatory problems and the greatest risk group involved families that were troubled, whether it involved psychosocial problems in the home or general problems with family interaction.

Of the behavioral issues possible, most involved a direct link to ADHD including destructive and aggressive tendencies, and excessive temper tantrums.

The children that were at the highest risk with persistent regulatory issues and troubled families require much earlier interventions to try and minimize the development of behavioral issues based on the long-term regulatory issues.

According to Dr. William Sears, new parents with babies that have these types of regulatory issues should try and keep a colic diary. Keeping record of these problems and behaviors can help pediatricians diagnose the cause for things such as colic.

Parents should try and take notes on a number of things such as what seems to trigger the crying bouts, what seems to stop the crying, is the time crying occurs consistent, how long does the crying last, and how often do these bouts occur.

Once you’ve kept careful track of your baby’s behaviors, bring the journal to the pediatrician and you may even request a longer visit so you can properly go through everything with the doctor. Your pediatrician will then determine if your child has reflux problems that are causing pain and therefore are contributing to the crying. Your doctor can also talk to you about overstimulation to the baby and teach you different methods to use to minimize the babies discomfort such as adjusting the lighting or temperature of the room or making necessary changes to the child’s bedding or clothing.

In most cases however, babies just need to have time to grow out of the behavior so parents may need to just find better ways for them to cope with it. Parents need to understand that it is not their fault and that they are not bad parents simply because the baby cries a lot. In cases such as these, parents should make sure and try to evenly share the responsibilities so that one parent is not facing most of the issues by themselves. Being a parent of a colicky baby can take its toll on parents, so sharing the responsibilities may help give each parent time to recover and relax. If sharing responsibilities is not an option due to work schedules, perhaps they should seek help from extended family in order to make sure they take time for themselves. When parents are able to relax and stay calm, it helps the baby calm down as well. Babies have a way of absorbing the stress that their parents are facing and it can therefore create anxiety for the baby and make it harder to him or her to calm themselves down.


Reynolds, D. RD. Colicky Babies May Later Be at Higher Risk for ADHD. 2011.