Probiotics May Ease Infant Colic

Colicky babies (and their parents) might find a reprieve from the tears by giving a probiotic called Lactobacillus reuteri a try, according to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Baby, don’t cry!

As any parent who’s had a colicky baby can tell you, those first few months of Baby’s life can feel like an eternity. Colic usually disappears on its own before an infant is five months old, but from about six weeks to four months, colicky babies may have episodes of persistent, unexplained crying, fussiness, or irritability lasting for three or more hours per day, at least three times per week for three or more weeks.

Desperate parents and well-meaning doctors have tried everything from eliminating “offending” foods from the nursing mother’s diet to massage and herbal remedies, none of which have a proven track record for alleviating colic.

No one knows for sure what causes colic but possible explanations include food allergies, lactose intolerance, reflux, gas, immature digestive function, and altered gut flora (the bacteria that live in the intestines).

Give probiotics a try

Recent studies suggest that colicky babies who are exclusively breastfed may benefit from taking the probiotic, L. reuteri. To see how L. reuteri works in babies who are mostly or exclusively breastfed, Polish researchers gave 80 colicky infants under five months old a supplement containing 100 million colony-forming units of L. reuteri or placebo for 21 days.

Parents recorded the frequency of the babies’ crying as well as their perception of crying severity, the effect on the family’s quality of life, and persistence of colic after the study ended.

  • Daily crying time was significantly reduced in the probiotic group compared with the placebo group throughout the study.
  • Parents perceived their babies’ colic severity to be much less in the probiotic group than in the placebo group.
  • The quality of life improved significantly among parents of infants in the probiotic group compared with the placebo group.
  • One week after treatment ended, crying times continued to decrease and were significantly shorter in the probiotic group than in the placebo group.

No side effects were noted during the study.

“Having a child with colic isn’t easy, not just in the patience that it takes, but the helplessness you feel when you know your baby is in pain,” says Julia Duhaime of New Hampshire. “I wish I had had the resources when my baby was little that I have now (including the knowledge that probiotics might help!). At the time, all we could do was let her outgrow it.”

(J Pediatr 2012; doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2012.08.004)

Calm your fussy baby’s colic by getting to the root of the cause. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
  • Give calming herbs a try: During colic episodes, give your infant 1/2 cup (118 ml) of a tea made from chamomile, vervain, licorice, fennel, and lemon balm
  • Find a new formula: Cow’s milk formula may cause colic in some infants; try switching to soy or a hypoallergenic product
  • Don’t let your infant “eat” air: To prevent babies from swallowing air, feed them in the sitting position and burp them frequently.

Probiotics—The Key to Calming Colic?

If you have a colicky baby, you know that caring for an inconsolable infant can be frustrating and trying. Fortunately, relief may be at hand. One study reports that a “friendly bacterium,” the probiotic strain Lactobacillus reuteri, may soothe crying in babies with colic.

Understanding colic

As many as 28% of babies suffer from colic—persistent, inconsolable crying in an otherwise healthy infant that lasts for at least three hours per day on three or more days per week. During crying episodes, babies may draw their limbs up to their tummies, grimace, and turn bright red, leaving caregivers desperate to relieve the baby—and themselves.

Symptoms usually begin at about three to six weeks of age and typically resolve by the time the baby is three months old. While a couple of months might not sound that long, any parent of a colicky baby can tell you that it can seem like an eternity.

No one knows for sure what causes colic, but some researchers have suggested that an immature digestive system, excess intestinal gas, baby’s temperament, or sensitivities to foods in a breast-feeding mother’s diet might be to blame.

A soothing strategy

Babies with colic tend to have less beneficial “probiotic” bacteria in their gastrointestinal tracts, a fact that led doctors to try using a probiotic product to help ease the condition. In the study, babies who were given the probiotic L. reuteri cried 94 minutes less per day than that given simethicone (an antigas agent commonly prescribed for colic). Mothers from both groups were asked to avoid all dairy products. In all, 95% of the babies who were given the probiotic experienced improvement, compared with only 7% who took simethicone.

Treating your baby

The L. reuteri product used in the study is commercially available from BioGaia AB, Stockholm, Sweden. Talk to your child’s pediatrician to see if this product or a similar preparation may be appropriate for calming your baby’s colic.

The researchers concluded, “The safety profile of probiotics makes them a favorable alternative to all other therapeutic options for breastfed infants with colic.”

(Pediatrics 2007;119:12430)