How Your Unhappy Relationship Might Be Making Your Baby Miserable

crying baby

As moms, we'll try almost anything to help a colicky baby, from avoiding certain foods while breastfeeding, to trying different swaddles and white noise machines, to implementing baby massage techniques found on YouTube. But, some new research shows there might be something else fueling our babies' endless cries -- something that's not entirely within our control. Apparently, moms who feel unsupported and unhappy in their relationships are more likely to have colicky babies.


Colic is defined as crying or fussiness that lasts more than three hours each day (or, as most parents define it: literal hell on earth). For this study, researchers from Penn State University collected info on more than 3,000 women, ages 18 to 36, who gave birth from January 2009 to April 2011. They asked questions about the women's happiness, partner-baby support, and general social support.

A little over 11 percent of the moms said their babies had colic. Of women who were involved in romantic relationships, they found the ones who reported being happier with their partners and having more help and support were actually less likely to have colicky babies. Similarly, single moms were less likely to have colicky babies, as long as they had strong social support networks. In other words, they figured out something most of us moms have known all along: We need some effing help.

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Researchers aren't sure exactly how a mom's support (or lack thereof) can influence whether or not her baby has colic. In a statement released by Penn State, lead researcher Kristen Kjerulff said, "Maybe the baby cries less if the mom and dad are happier. Another possibility is that mothers in happier relationships may not perceive their baby's crying as negatively, and may not report it as colic."

As a mom, I will say this study kind of feels like a double-edged sword. If moms having better relationships and more support can actually reduce the chances of their babies having colic, great! But it's not like moms can magically conjure up super-helpful partners or friends and family who are willing to help at the drop of a hat. And, honestly, new moms are already stressed, exhausted, and overwhelmed -- the last thing they need is to feel like marital bickering or their lack of trustworthy childcare is giving their baby colic.

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Luckily, the researchers say moms shouldn't take these findings personally. Instead, they hope these results will inspire our partners to be more helpful and supportive and inspire more people to work toward social changes that make it easier for moms to access the resources they need.

"Mothers' significant others have a role to play in reducing the burden of colic," said Chandran Alexander, assistant professor of pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine. "Society should avoid pinning the blame for colic on mothers' competence, self-esteem, or depression. He added, "We need to impress upon society the importance of supporting families in their care of newborns."

Can I get an amen?

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