There has been a buzz around probiotics for years, but really as an adult thing. But could probiotics be a new warrior in the battle against colic?
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Colic — excessive crying in an infant that is unrelated to a medical problem — can be a source of stress for parents. Dealing with colic can be an extremely frustrating situation for parents, who would do anything to find some relief for their baby. Italian researchers think probiotics can help — but not everyone is on board with the idea.

Are probiotics the answer?

When you take probiotics, you introduce friendly, live bacteria back into your digestive system, to help maintain a healthy balance of organisms in your intestines.

There has been a lot of buzz around probiotics in recent years. When you take probiotics, you introduce friendly, live bacteria back into your digestive system, to help maintain a healthy balance of organisms in your intestines. Sounds good, right? "In Europe, probiotics are widely used to treat colic," says Dr. Flavia Indrio, department of pediatrics at Aldo Moro University of Bari and lead author of the study, the results of which were published online in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The study results showed that, over a three-month period, babies who got the probiotics had less stomach upset — and crying spells that were significantly shorter — than the babies who were given the placebo.

But Dr. Indrio cautions that these findings need to be replicated by other studies before probiotics become standard care. The study showed an association between probiotic use and decreased colic, but a cause-and-effect relationship has yet to be proven. "Parents need to be informed that probiotics possibly cure and prevent colic," Indrio says. "This is something I use routinely in my practice to treat colic." Dr. Bruno Chumpitazi, pediatric gastroenterologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, agrees that more research should be done, but he's optimistic. "There is going to be a day — and it may be soon — when your pediatrician will give five probiotics a day to prevent your baby from getting colic," says Dr. Chumpitazi.

The other side of the coin

For as many medical professionals who feel that there is merit to the use of probiotics to treat colic, there are also skeptics. Another study out of Australia finds that probiotics given to babies with colic don't seem to help ease their discomfort. "Lactobacillus reuteri was not effective in reducing crying or fussing in infants with colic, whether they are breast- or formula-fed," says Dr. Valerie Sung, pediatrician at the Royal Children's Hospital, in Parkville, Victoria, and lead researcher of the study. Findings from the study were published online in the journal BMJ.

The group of babies taking the probiotics cried or fussed for approximately 49 minutes more each day than the babies taking the placebo.

"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. After taking into account age and other factors that could have skewed the data, the group of babies taking the probiotics cried or fussed for approximately 49 minutes more each day than the babies taking the placebo. This increase in fussiness was observed only in the formula-fed babies. No improvements were noted in sleep, the mental health of the mother or the family functioning in the group taking the probiotics, she found. Other studies have provided mixed results.

So what's the deal?

Are probiotics helpful in treating colic, then? Dr. William Muinos is the co-director of the division of gastroenterology at Miami Children's Hospital in Florida. He is cautious about the idea of using probiotics to combat colic.

"We don't normally treat babies with probiotics," Muinos says. Some babies might even be at risk for having the bacteria get into the bloodstream, which could cause serious illness, he says. Parents who want to give their baby a probiotic should do it under the supervision of their pediatrician, according to Muinos.

Bottom Line^ Consult with your pediatrician before deciding to use probiotics in an attempt to combat the symptoms of colic.

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