Colic – the type of crying every new parent fears.
If you’ve been around a colicky baby, or had a colicky baby yourself, you know just how stressful those newborn colic cries can be.
We’re wired to answer and soothe our baby’s cries and when we’re unable to settle them, we can feel incredibly defeated.
And after defeat come stress, fatigue, and desperation.
British social anthropologist, Sheila Kitzinger, who studied pregnancy and childbirth, writes: “The sound of a crying baby . . . is just about the most disturbing, demanding, shattering noise we can hear”.
The United States military has reportedly used the sound of wailing infants as an instrument of psychological stress, piping recordings into detainees’ cells at Guantánamo Bay.
Probiotic Could Reduce Colic Crying, Research Says
Colic is difficult. It often leads to doctor’s appointments that produce few answers, beyond “You just need to cope and wait it out”. We might be offered coping techniques, but not much else.
New research suggests a promising solution to reducing infant colic: a probiotic.
Researchers found Lactobacillus reuteri reduced the length and frequency of colic cries in exclusively breastfed infants.
What Is Colic?
Colic is often used as a catch-all term for excessive crying in an otherwise healthy baby. From the health professional's perspective, however, colic has a few specific characteristics.
BellyBelly's lactation consultant, Renee Kam, IBCLC, says: “If you have a baby who is under the age of about three months and has episodes where he:
- Cries a lot
- Doesn’t settle easily to sleep (if at all)
- Cluster feeds
- Appears very ‘windy’ or ‘gassy’
- Goes red in the face
- Makes facial grimaces
- Brings his knees up to his chest
- Arches his back
then it's likely your baby has colic. Colic tends to begin around the late afternoon or early evening and can last for a few hours or more”.
Be sure to read Colic – What Is Colic? 5 Common Questions Answered to learn more.
Does Colic Cause Health Problems?
Generally, the term colic is only applied to symptoms in otherwise healthy infants. Occasionally, parents or a healthcare professional might assume an infant has colic when, in fact, there is an underlying medical reason for the crying.
That’s why it’s important you discuss any symptoms of colic or excessive crying with your baby’s doctor or health nurse.
Occasionally, excessive crying is related to reflux, food allergies or intolerances, or other underlying medical conditions.
Once your infant is given a clear bill of health, the term colic might be applied. Colic itself isn’t a health problem. No one is quite certain what causes colic, but there’s a range of theories. Essentially, it seems the transition from womb to world takes a bit more time for some babies.
Their digestive system is just beginning to function and mature, and their brains are taking in quite a lot of stimulation. It’s a big transition for little ones who have spent the last nine months in the perfect environment.
Colic doesn’t directly cause health problems, but sometimes colic is linked with:
- Early cessation of breastfeeding
- Maternal depression
- Bonding or attachment struggles.
How Did A Probiotic Relieve Colic In This Study?
Parents of a colicky baby have been known to try nearly every home remedy, and baby gadget – and sometimes even medication – to curb colic crying. We know colic is temporary, but three months of persistent crying can wear anyone out, including baby.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of colic is that mothers end up wondering what they could be doing wrong. The answer is, of course, nothing but, in the moment, they feel at fault if they can’t help their babies to settle.
Researchers have tried for centuries to find the cause and cure for colic. We’re not quite there yet, but in a recent study, researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, in collaboration with 11 other institutions around the world, have made a promising discovery.
The probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri has the potential to reduce colic crying in exclusively breastfed infants.
Paediatrician and lead author Valerie Sung said the study pooled data from four smaller studies of 345 colicky babies in Italy, Poland, Canada and Australia.
Dr. Sung said, “What we found was that the probiotic was effective in babies who were exclusively breastfed. For breastfed babies, the effectiveness is such that the probiotic was twice as likely [compared to placebo] to receive treatment success”.
The probiotic was found to result in a 50% improvement in the amount of crying, and reduce the crying time by 15 minutes.
Discomfort and other troubles with digestion have long been suggested as causes of colic. While more research is needed, this study provides a potential option for desperate parents.
The lack of studies available on formula fed infants means we can’t automatically assume it’s an cure, but it remains promising.
Should I Give My Colicky Baby This Probiotic?
If you think your baby might have colic, it’s important to have her paediatrician make a proper assessment, to rule out any underlying causes for the crying.
If you and your infant’s doctor believe she is otherwise healthy, the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri might be an option to consider.
Dr. Sung said, “Ultimately, the effectiveness of this treatment will need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, but I think it’s worth trying. I wouldn’t say it’s the definitive treatment and will make crying go away completely but it will help a little bit. It should be offered in conjunction with other supportive management”.
The study showed a notable decrease in the frequency and length of crying in exclusively breastfed babies with colic, but the treatment didn’t completely eliminate the crying.
However, a little improvement, via a probiotic, might be another useful tool to add to your coping chest, as you wait out the unpleasant months of colic.