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Prolonged Infant Crying: Sign of Trouble?

In Rare Cases, Persistent Crying That Is Not Colic May Signal Nervous System Problem
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Colic vs. Persistent Crying continued...

In this group, 48 infants had colic, and 15 had prolonged crying that persisted past 13 weeks, Rao reports.

Children who had a history of prolonged crying as infants, but not those that had colic, had poorer outcomes in tests of thinking skills.

Prolonged criers had these problems:

  • Three of the 15 children (20%) had IQ scores nine points lower than a comparison group of children whose mothers reported no crying-related problems. This was not noted for children with colic.
  • Five children had significantly poorer fine-motor abilities, such as hand-eye coordination, when compared with children whose mothers reported no crying-related problems.
  • These children were also more likely to have problems associated with discipline and with hyperactivity. Nine children had discipline and hyperactivity problems. These problems were not seen in children with colic.

Infants in his study had no unusual signs of toxins -- or nutritional deficiencies -- in their blood tests, he notes. The infants also had no major health problems that could account for their crying, and their home environments were similar.

"When we looked at the children who had typical colic, as expected we saw no problems later," he tells WebMD. "But on average, the persistently crying children had lower IQ, poorer fine-motor skills, and more behavior problems." The prolonged crying itself may be an indication of later brain development problems, he explains.

Prolonged Colic, Mental Deficits Are Rare

"I don't want parents to go crazy worrying about this... The good news is, most infants in this study had garden-variety colic, and they were fine. In general, colic goes away and this study does not imply otherwise," says Steven Parker, MD, director of behavioral and developmental pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. Parker also writes a biweekly column for WebMD's Parenting and Pregnancy channel.

"If crying lasts over six months, it's worthwhile for a pediatrician to try to figure out what it's due to," Parker tells WebMD. "In some kids, it may be a medical problem like heartburn or reflux, and they end up being OK. In a small percentage, there may be something going on in the nervous system. Early intervention for these kids would help them."

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