Good Bacteria Could Help with Colic
Probiotics, tiny beneficial bacteria commonly found in the human body, could prove a big help to babies with colic - those unexplained, hours-long bouts of crying and fussing in otherwise healthy infants. An Italian study of 90 colicky infants published in the December issue of Pediatrics found that 95 percent of those given Lactobacillus reuteri, a probiotoc common in the digestive tract, showed reduced symptoms within a week.

Levels of L. reuteri have been found to be lower in colicky babies than in infants without colic, according to Jennifer Shu, M.D., co-author of the book Heading Home with Your Newborn (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2005). Thus researchers have theorized that the probiotic relieves colic symptoms by bringing balance to the levels of bacteria and microorganisms found in the digestive tract.

Shu says that L. reuteri supplements do not appear to be readily available in the United States at this point, and that their use in infants hasn't been thoroughly researched. "The safety of probiotics in young infants has not been well studied," she says. "Because they affect the digestive tract, they could possibly cause symptoms such as gas or bloating."

Both Shu and the Italian researchers say that further study is needed to determine appropriate doses and investigate other potentially helpful probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, in treatment of colic. Meanwhile, Shu advises parents with colicky babies to talk with their pediatricians.

"The cause of colic has not been proven, so digestive issues may not be the issue, or the only issue," she says. She also recommends the Five S's - swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing (white noise), and sucking - suggested in Harvey Karp's book Happiest Baby on the Block, as calming strategies. And keep in mind that this, too, shall pass.

"Most babies with colic are better by 3 to 4 months," Shu says, "so parents should feel assured that crying won't last forever."

- Christina Elston

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