A new study shows that breastfed infants who are fed probiotics for colic have reduced symptoms and episodes of crying.
Colic, which is a period of excessive crying and distress in a young baby, can last for many hours and occurs in over a quarter of all babies aged six weeks to three months old. The nearly daily crying bouts lead to parental distress, fatigue due to lack of sleep, an increased risk in parental depression and risk of shaken baby syndrome as parental frustration and guilt builds.
A quick trip to the pharmacy offers many over-the-counter remedies, but few, if any, have been shown to effectively reduce the bouts of crying that result in so many sleepless nights for parents who are already sleep-deprived from taking care of their newborn.
That is why this new study, published in the Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics journal seems so important. The researchers found that they were able to reduce the length of crying bouts by over 50% simply by treating babies with probiotics for colic.
A total of 80 infants around six weeks old were separated into two groups: one group that would receive a BB-12 strain of Bifidobacterius animalis (a commonly used probiotic bacteria), while the other group would receive a placebo treatment with no bacteria in it. Babies were randomly placed into one of the two groups, in a double-blind format. This means that both the parents and the doctors evaluating the effects of the treatments did not know which babies received the bacterial mixture or the placebo. This could not affect their observations or measurements since they had no way of knowing if changes in a baby’s behaviour or health were due to the bacterial treatment or not.
The scientists monitored not only crying frequency and length of crying bouts, but they also measured stool frequency and consistency, as well as certain indicators of a healthy gut. These measurements were taken over a period of 28 days on a weekly basis, from the time treatment started until treatment ended.
What they discovered was rather remarkable. Eighty percent of the babies in the group receiving the daily doses of BB-12 bacteria had the length of their crying spells reduced by at least 50% while only 32 % of those on the placebo had similar results. Also, the frequency of crying per week decreased by half in the BB-12 group while the frequency decreased by only a quarter in the placebo group. The bacterial treatment worked so well that decreased crying time for the BB-12 treated babies was noticed even within the first week of treatment.
When looking at stool in the diapers, there was a decrease in the number of stools per day for the BB-12 group while there was no change in the placebo group. There was no difference in stool consistency between both groups.
Finally, when measuring the indicators of gut health, the babies in the BB-12 group had more probiotic bacteria in their stool and had fewer signs of gut inflammation, which could explain why the babies were not crying as often or as much as the placebo group.
The results of this study definitively showed that a treatment using probiotics for colic seems effective and safe. Only one child out of the 80 had an adverse breathing reaction to the bacterial formula used, and this was most likely due to a respiratory illness. Overall, the children in the BB-12 treatment group had much less discomfort and crying than the children who received the placebo.
The study cannot guarantee that every child treated with probiotics for colic will see similar results. There was still 20% of the BB-12 group of infants that did not see a significant improvement in their crying bouts. Also, the study only accepted infants that were breastfed exclusively. There is no way to know if children that are fed with formula would see similar results.
Written by Nancy Lemieux
Nocerino, R. et al (2019). The therapeutic efficacy of Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis BB‐12® in infant colic: A randomised, double blind, placebo‐controlled trial. [online] Wiley Online Library. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/apt.15561 [Accessed 5 Dec. 2019].
EurekAlert!. (2019). Probiotic may help treat colic in infants. [online] Available at: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-12/w-pmh120219.php [Accessed 6 Dec. 2019].
Alex L. Rogovik, R. (2019). Treating infants’ colic. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1479474/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2019].
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