An Immature Nervous System and Colic – How the Two Relate

Babies are born with an immature nervous system which fully matures over the first few years of life. For this reason, an immature nervous system has become a theory as to why colic occurs—the nervous system becomes a bit more mature at about three months of age, which coincidentally is when colic usually stops.

An immature nervous system may cause excessive crying in a baby because the child can not handle the stresses of every day life. As a result of the stimuli around him a baby can get overloaded and then handles the overload by crying. Since babies only communicate by crying, excessive crying could mean that he is over stimulated. As he gets older and his nervous system matures, he will be able to adjust to the stimuli which life provides.

The type of baby you have, or rather the kind of temperament that he has, also relates to how easily he is affected by the environment. A baby with an “easy temperament” will most likely go with the flow and not be colicky. On the other end of the spectrum is one  with a “sensitive temperament.” This baby will have a hard time handling things such as noise, people and bright lights which will result in continuous crying. When a baby is in this state, he will have a hard time calming down, which in turn causes him to be over-tired and not be able to fall asleep. It becomes a vicious cycle of Baby’s constant crying and not sleeping, resulting in stressed and sleep-deprived parents.

Maternal bonding also plays a vital role in the maturing of a baby’s nervous system. In order to properly mature, a baby needs constant social, physical, emotional and maternal contact. If a baby does not receive this, excessive crying could occur. So, if a baby is continually crying, and is not receiving the love and physical contact that he needs, this could be the answer to why he’s crying, not because he’s colicky.

The Enteric Nervous System

Along with an immature nervous system, a newborn has an immature gut, or as it’s scientifically called the enteric nervous system. The gut has been called our “second brain” because it can work on its own. The two (brain and gut) communicate through the vagus nerve, but research shows that when the vagus nerve is severed, the gut will continue to fully function. If the nervous system needs time to mature, it follows that the entric nervous system does as well. So, one thought could be that an infant is colicky because he is being introduced to food for the first time with an immature enteric system (while in the womb the fetus does not actually process food in their gut). The immature entric system could have a hard time digesting food, resulting in pain and a crying baby. Arthur S. Brackett confirms this theory in his article in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine “Enteric Colic” in which he states, “The site of pain and discomfort in the first few months of life is most often in the abdomen, more specifically in the motor mechanism, especially in the terminal ileum. The wave-like discomfort and pain suggest renal and gall-stone colic, where a hollow muscular viscus is trying to eject a foreign body against resistance. The contents of the ileum are the foreign body, consisting of air, water, and food introduced from the outside, together with the saliva, gastric juice, bile, pancreatic juice, and succus entericus, minus what has been absorbed.”

Constant crying is often attributed to colic, but one theory is that the combination of the two immature nervous systems, the nervous and the enteric, is what could be the cause of a baby’s duress.