Even with the best of babies, parents of newborns live in a state of exhaustion. If your kid has colic, you’re pretty much a zombie. But scientists have found a noninvasive treatment that might help everybody in the family to feel better.
Yes, it’s a trendy nutritional supplement, but according to a recent study in JAMA Pediatrics, as well as some previous studies in Europe, these “good bacteria” can reduce crying in colicky babies. The JAMA study suggests that probiotics might even prevent colic.
"We do find that the baby who took the probiotic since the first week of life, they develop less number of colic and constipation in the first month of life so they improve at least the symptoms," Dr. Flavia Indrio, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the University of Bari in Italy who led the JAMA study, told NPR.
What causes colic is not clear, but according to NPR, it affects between 8 and 15 out of 100 babies. It can be so bad as to cause depression in parents, and even thoughts of infanticide.
The babies in the JAMA study were given a form of Lactobacillus reuteri, a friendly bacteria that seems to help their digestive systems mature properly. There are countless ways to compound probiotics, and the trick is to find the right one.
"There are a number of effects that we know probiotics can have," Dr. Robert Shulman, professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, told NPR. Many probiotics seem to affect the immune system, improve the lining of the intestine and influence the balance of bacteria living in the digestive system.
But "[W]e don't really know in babies with colic exactly how these probiotics are working," he said, and cautioned that much more research is required before babies are routinely given probiotics. The bacteria seem safe, but studies also must confirm that it’s too early to know for sure that their use has no long-term risks.
So if you see probiotics in your grocery story or pharmacy marketed as a colic remedy, be skeptical, but probably not alarmed — they’re more likely to be useless than possibly harmful.
Other than treatment for colic, probiotics are being studied to treat a range of conditions in adults from eczema to inflammatory bowel disease.
If you don’t want to take supplements but do want to boost your intake of these beneficial bacteria to help digest food, make vitamins and maybe help protect against, eat yogurt (with live cultures), sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented foods.