Are Probiotics the Answer to Colic?

Update 2014/04/02 - Since this article was published, new research has come to light on the use of probiotics to treat colic.  For my latest thoughts on probiotics see: The Very Latest on Probiotics

We can thank the Italians for some of the best things in life – good coffee, great pasta, my daydreams of a romantic gondola ride with the man who adores me… Can we also thank them for the answer to colic? 

Some really encouraging colic research has come out of Italy this year.  A large study of 589 infants reported that the babies who proactively received probiotics from their first few days of life had:

  • nearly a 50% reduction in crying time;
  • less regurgitation and constipation;
  • significantly less pediatric emergency department visits;
  • fewer lost parental working days; and
  • less use of agents to promote gastrointestinal comfort,  

compared to the babies that received the placebo.

Now as a mum of a baby who screamed for hours at a time, results like that catch my attention fast!  What I find interesting is that those results are consistent with a 2010 study that also showed a 50% reduction in crying time for babies that received probiotics. 

How do Probiotics Work?

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The bottom line is that nobody knows what causes colic for certain, but one theory is that affected babies have problems with the types of microflora (micro-organisms like bacteria) in their gut.  A small 2013 study reported that infants with colic showed lower diversity and stability in their gut microflora than the control group.   The theory is that the microflora imbalance affects gut function, including movement through the intestines and gas production.

The researchers in this latest Italian study said that “colonies of lactobacillus reuteri appear to reduce intestinal inflammation, improve movement in the intestines and lessen sensitivity to pain… but more research is needed to understand exactly what the bacterium does in the body.”

Conflicting Results:

It is still early days in investigating probiotics and many doctors think there is still insufficient evidence to recommend them for general preventative use.  The difficulty is that there are other studies that had conflicting results – studies where the probiotics didn’t appear to work.  Some doctors are also concerned that little is known about the long term effects of probiotics use in babies.  

My View?

It is far from a slam dunk yet, but the evidence on probiotics is encouraging.  One important point for me is that there were no adverse events (scientific-speak for bad side effects) reported in either the 2010 study or the 2014 study.  So when I had my own screaming baby, I was definitely willing to give probiotics a shot.  The baby probiotics we used with Oliver were a different strain to the one used in this latest study (we used BabyBiotics from BioCeuticals).  Although it wasn’t an instant fix for us, I think it probably did help.

You can buy baby probiotics from your local pharmacy.  It wasn’t too hard to use – depending on the type you get it comes either in drops or in a powder.  If it’s the powder you can mix it with expressed milk or formula.  We used to just mix it with some water on a teaspoon to make a runny paste and he’d swallow it from the teaspoon.

The thing to remember about probiotics is that you are working to change your baby’s gut flora, so it won’t be an instant fix - it might take a week or two to start having an impact.

What If it Doesn’t Work For Your Baby?

If you’ve already tried probiotics and they haven’t helped your baby – don’t worry, the cause of your baby’s colic might be something else.  I believe its likely that there’s more than one cause of excessive crying in babies.  To read more about the causes of colic, check out my recent post: “So What IS Colic Anyway?”

Take care out there,

Jen

PS Today I'm linking up with Essentially Jess and the #IBOT team :)