Giving a commonly used probiotic to babies who have colic
doesn't seem to help ease their discomfort at all, a new Australian study
"Lactobacillus reuteri was not effective in reducing
crying or fussing in infants with colic, whether they are breast- or
formula-fed," said lead researcher Dr Valerie Sung, a paediatrician at the
Royal Children's Hospital, in Parkville, Victoria.
The finding was published online in the journal BMJ.
Colic is marked by periods of fussiness and crying or
screaming, usually starting at about two weeks of age and disappearing by age
three months or so. It has no long-term harmful effects, according to experts,
but stressed-out parents look for relief.
Probiotics are live bacteria, used in supplements and food,
to help people with digestive problems. The cause of colic is not known with
certainty, but one possibility is digestive difficulties.
Sung's team compared the probiotic to a placebo. They
assigned 85 babies to the probiotic group and 82 to the placebo group for a
month, noting the daily duration of crying or fussing in each group. Parents
gave five drops orally of the probiotic or placebo once a day.
Parents also reported how long the infants slept and
answered questions about the mothers' mental health status and the babies'
quality of life.
"At one month, the probiotic group cried or fussed an
average of 229 minutes per day, as opposed to 191 minutes per day in the
placebo group," Sung said.
bacteria may spur colic
After the researchers took into account other factors, such
as age and the amount of crying at the study's start, the probiotic group cried
or fussed about 49 minutes more a day than the placebo group.
The increased fussing occurred only in the formula-fed
babies. The probiotic did not affect crying or fussing time if babies were
There was also no improvement in sleep, maternal mental
health, family or infant functioning in the probiotic group, she found.
The new findings follow a previous evaluation by Sung's
team, published last October in the journal JAMA Paediatrics. In that study,
the researchers reviewed 12 published studies and found conflicting results,
with some finding the same probiotic effective for breast-fed but not
Nevena Krstic, a spokeswoman for the industry group
International Probiotics Association, said her scientific team is still
evaluating the study.
The new research was accompanied by a journal editorial by
Dr William Bennett Jr. The study is well done and conclusive, said Bennett, an
assistant professor of paediatrics and a paediatric gastroenterologist at
Bennett often fields the question of what to do about colic
from his patients' parents. If their baby is bottle-fed, some have found
switching to a hydrolysed formula can help, he said. In those formulas, the
protein is broken down so it's easier to absorb.
became popular among parents about five years ago, Bennett said, despite
conflicting findings about their effectiveness. The new study, he said,
"is by far the most well done and conclusive study on whether probiotics
work in colic."
Bennett said he reassures parents of babies with colic.
"This is a normal phenomenon," he tells them. "It's very
difficult, but it will get better." While there are no long-term side
effects, the short-term stress can be frustrating, he said.
Sung said parents should seek medical advice, being sure the
paediatrician rules out any medical problems, and then get practical support.
"Shop online for food, organise some babysitting," she suggested.
Bennett also recommends that parents try the
"five-S" remedy for colic: Sway the baby, swaddle him, make shushing
sounds, lay the baby on his side, and let the baby suckle or give him a bottle.
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