Probiotic hope for colicky babies

Parents of constantly crying babies have been given new hope, with new research finding a simple probiotic can reduce symptoms.

The word “colic”, used to describe babies who are unsettled and fuss and cry a lot, can strike fear into the heart of any parent.

What is colic?

While it’s normal for infants to cry, colicky babies can cry inconsolably for more than three hours at a time, several times a week and for weeks on end. It can drive desperate parents into despair.

Colic usually begins in newborns within the first few months of life and peaks at six to eight weeks.

Frustratingly for parents, its cause in otherwise-healthy and well-fed infants remains a mystery.

Affecting one in five babies, colic associated with depression in mothers, can lead to cessation of breastfeeding and, in extreme cases, even child harm.

New treatment hope for colicky babies

New research from Melbourne says the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri can reduce crying in babies younger than three months old.

Crying reduced 50 per cent after three weeks in babies given the probiotic, compared with infants given a placebo – but only in babies who were exclusively breastfed.

Lead author and paediatrician Dr Valerie Sung says her own parenting experience has shown her first hand the debilitating impact of constant crying in babies.

“Just a few minutes of crying can seem like an eternity, let along hours of crying each day for weeks at a time,” she says. “I guess for parents this study is a significant relief.”

baby colic

Other ways to manage colic

The research found other treatments that may also be effective include:

  • Hydrolysed formula
  • A hypoallergenic diet in breastfeeding mums
  • Reduced stimulation
  • Improved parental responsiveness
  • Parental counselling
  • Acupuncture

“My advice is to listen to your baby,” Dr Sung says.

“Crying is the only way they communicate and sometimes when they can’t settle, it may be them telling you they are unhappy, they have a sore tummy or something is bothering them and they need comfort. New babies need time to adjust.”

What doesn’t work for colic

Remedies the research found to be ineffective include:

  • Simethicone
  • Spinal manipulation
  • Soy and fibre-enriched formula
  • Lactase
  • Car ride simulators
  • Crib vibrators
  • Increased carrying

Dicyclomine, cimetropium, herbal mixtures and swaddling meanwhile were all found to be effective but possibly harmful, while the scientists found sucrose may be helpful, but the effects short-lived.

colicky baby

What about colic in formula-fed babies?

For formula-fed babies the results aren’t so certain, with further research needed.

“We’re not sure why that is the case although it may have something to do with the different gut flora between breastfed and formula-fed infants,” Dr Sung says.

The paediatrician says while the simple treatment provides hope for some, parents should still see their GP if they were worried about their babies crying to rule out any underlying causes.