Australian researchers may have discovered a simple, natural way to treat colic — at least for breastfed babies. The positive evidence could potentially give some parents serious relief, since studies show that up to one-quarter of otherwise healthy babies cry and fuss more than normal. Colicky babies are younger than 5 months old and cry for more than three hours in a row on three or more days a week for at least three weeks, according to Baby Center.
Research shows that, on top of driving parents off the walls, colic can strain family relationships, increase the risk of parental depression, and impact breastfeeding.
"Many parents search desperately for something that will treat or even 'cure' their baby’s colic," Holly Klaassen, founder and editor of The Fussy Baby Site for parents of colicky and "high needs" babies, told The Huffington Post. "Unfortunately, doctors haven’t been able to provide many answers."
Until now. Research led by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne (MCRI) published this week in the journal Pediatrics has found that a probiotic called "Lactobacillus reuteri" can actually help reduce crying and fussing in some breastfed babies, according to The Age. The researchers looked at 345 babies and found that the probiotic group was twice as likely as the placebo group to experience a 50 percent reduction in crying over three weeks, according to SBS News, an Australian source; the reduction in crying time was 13 to 15 minutes greater per day for the probiotic group.
Breastfeeding babies who were given the probiotic reduced crying after 21 days by an average of almost 50 minutes a day, compared to those who did not have the treatment, according to The Age. Further research is required to determine whether or not treatment is proven to be effective in formula-fed infants. So far it's not, SBS reported, perhaps because breastfed and formula-fed infants have different gut microbiota or flora.
Infants' digestive systems play a major role in how much they cry and fuss because their digestive systems may be dealing with bacterial changes or are simply not developed enough yet — and probiotics (which are live "good" bacteria) can improve gut health, according to The Huffington Post.
To confirm that the probiotic does indeed work, the MCRI collaborated with 11 other institutions around the world, combining raw data from four major double-blind placebo controlled Lactobacillus reuteri trials from Italy, Poland, Canada, and Australia, SBS reported. The Australian trial showed Lactobacillus reuteri to be ineffective, but when combined with the other trials, it was clear that it worked for exclusively breastfed babies.
Parents can find the probiotic at stores like Target for about $30 with Gerber, but they should realize that this is not a cure. "It may help some babies stop crying for some time," lead author, pediatrician Dr. Valerie Sung said, according to The Age. "It does not mean that things will be fixed overnight."
Dr. Sung also told The Age that parents should think about stopping the probiotic once the period of crying is over because, although the study's researchers know that it is safe in the short term, they don't yet have information about long-term effects.
In fact, an editorial accompanying the review in the journal Pediatrics argued that it is too soon to recommend probiotics for colicky babies, breastfed or not, The Huffington Post reported. The editorial pointed out that the incidence of colic in infants who are not given probiotics also drops with time — from 20 percent in the first six weeks of life to 11 percent by weeks eight or nine.
So if you eventually decide to treat your baby with probiotics (with your doctor's OK), remember that it's not a cure-all. But you might, at the very least, finally catch some more Z's. That's something.