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Do Probiotics Help for Colic?

Caring for a newborn is hard work but we’ve been lucky enough to not have experienced colic with our son George. Colic is a very hard thing to go through, so next time you feel like your baby may be suffering from it please bring them in to see an expert and talk about what we can do to make them more comfortable.

The fact of the matter is that colic is benign. This means that it does not mean your child is unwell or that your parenting abilities are lacking. It will typically go away all on its own by the time your baby is 3-4 months old.

What is colic?

There is no set definition for colic. Generally, researchers have defined it as a baby who cries for greater than 3 hours a day on 3+ days per week and has done so for 3 or more weeks while being otherwise healthy and less than 3 months old.

What causes colic?

It’s unfortunate that nothing has been pinpointed as the cause of colic. There are many theories on why it might occur and they include gastrointestinal, physical, or emotional influences.

The word colic comes from the Greek word “kolikos”, which roughly translates to colon. This is why many theories around the cause of colic suggest it might be related to what’s happening in your digestive system.

Some of the possible causes of colic that have been researched are: dairy intolerance, lactose intolerance, a baby’s immature gut and poor bacterial flora.

Not all probiotics are created equal

One of the most common probiotics is Lactobacillus. Probiotics have been researched as a potential treatment for infants with colic, specifically with Lactobacillus reuteri. All other types of probiotics have not shown consistent results in trials and are not recommended as potential treatments.  

Probiotics containing L reuteri have only shown some potential benefit in breastfed infants. The same results were not found in formula fed infants.  

Do probiotics work for treating colic?

Lactobacillus reuteri has been shown to improve an infant’s colic by 50% after two weeks of treatment.  

Approximately 25% of infants will not respond to treatment with L reuteri.

These results were only found in infants that were breastfed and not formula fed. 

Many physicians will opt to allow colic to run its course rather than treat with probiotics.  Colic will disappear on its own by 12 weeks of age. 

Probiotics are generally very expensive so their use should be weighed as cost versus potential benefit.

Side effects of probiotics

The most common side effects of L reuteri are constipation, gas, vomiting and skin reactions (though rare). 

Other ways to soothe colicky infants

It is important to use the right techniques and different types of soothing for a colicky baby. Changing your feeding technique can be helpful. Bottle-feeding babies in a more upright position may relieve their gassiness/wind issues, and getting help from a lactation consultant may also help parents.

Then try other soothing techniques:

  • Try a pacifier
  • Go for a walk in the stroller or baby carrier
  • Increasing or decreasing sensory stimuli
  • Tummy massage
  • Rocking the baby in your arms or an infant swing
  • A warm bath
  • White noise

Little ones often need help when they’re fighting off a cold or sickness. Place your baby in their crib and ask for help from friends and family. They’ll be better in no time, just know that you’re doing the best you can!

This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.

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