It’s thought that up to 20 percent of infants experience colic, which typically begins around two weeks of age and lasts until about three to four months. That’s a lot of crying babies—and very weary parents!
What is colic?
Colic is traditionally defined as inconsolable crying in an otherwise healthy infant younger than three months of age that lasts at least three hours a day for at least three days per week, over at least three weeks in a month.
As the definition suggests, this is very trying and wearing on parents. A natural treatment that has received much attention, with promising results, is probiotic supplementation.
Why use probiotics for colic?
While the cause of colic is not fully understood, it has been suggested that crying is the result of gastrointestinal discomfort, gas, and cramping. According to researchers, a “low amount of lactobacilli and an increased amount of coliform bacteria in the intestinal microbiota have been reported as a possible cause of gut dysmotility and increasing of gas production.”
Colic may result from a cows’ milk allergy (with exposure through either formula or breastmilk via the mother’s diet) or from the immaturity of the nervous system in infants. Beneficial bacteria compete with and block the effects of pathogenic bacteria and may be involved in desensitization of the gut immune system to food proteins that may also be implicated in colic. Targeting the gut flora through probiotic supplementation, therefore, is a rational intervention.
What does the research say?
A 2015 meta-analysis summarized six randomized, controlled trials of 423 infants with colic, finding that supplementation with Lactobacillus reuteri probiotic “increased colic treatment effectiveness” when measured after two and three weeks, but not after four weeks, of supplementation. Researchers also found that the probiotic decreased crying time by approximately 40 to 45 minutes per day at two and three weeks.
Clinical trials using species including L. reuteri and L. rhamnosus have been found to decrease crying time. A study of breastfed infants found that a significantly higher proportion of the infants supplemented with L. reuteri responded to treatment, with crying time reduced by at least 50 percent compared with infants who were given a placebo.
Another study investigated the preventive effect of L. reuteri supplementation in more than 500 infants. After three months, infants receiving probiotics had a decrease in crying time as well as improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms, including regurgitation and bowel movements, compared with infants who were given a placebo.
Given their high safety level and other associated benefits, using probiotics for colic seems to be a no-brainer.