Colic Treatment: what does the latest research say about medications and other interventions used for treating infant colic? You will find the answers on this page.
Research studies referred to are randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials, so if I say there is no research, I mean no randomized controlled trials.
No treatment has been found as a perfect colic treatment, but several treatments have been shown to work in some babies some of the time - see the list below. Time itself will reliably sort out colic, and while you are waiting there are simple measures for colic that you can try - read more.
Each section below deals with a different intervention, giving you information on what the research says and then giving comments based on my personal opinion.
An over-the-counter anti-gas medication
Research says: Simethicone is no better than placebo (dummy medication).
Dr Maud says: Simethicone has a good safety record in babies and is not too expensive, so it is worth trying as a colic treatment. If there is no response after 7-10 days, there is no point continuing.
Over-the-counter colic treatments containing various herbs (including fennel).
Research says: There is no evidence looking at gripe water or colic ease specifically, but there is research that shows benefit from herbal preparations that include fennel.
Dr Maud says: Gripe water & Colic Ease have good safety records in babies and are not too expensive, so they are worth trying. If there is no response after 7-10 days, there is no point continuing.
Various preparations containing herbs have been used in colic treatment, including
Research says: Herbal preparations have been shown to be effective in reducing crying time in babies with colic. There has been concern regarding giving herbal teas to babies as it means they have reduced milk intake (their stomachs can only cope with a certain volume) and this may lead to poor growth. The phyotherapeutic preparations do not involve a large volume and so are not thought to interfere with growth. No adverse side effects have been reported.
Dr Maud says: I like the use of herbs in treating a condition like colic. However, do not use herbal tea in the baby as the volumes may interfere with normal feeding, although breast-feeding mothers could try drinking the tea. The phytotherapeutic agents developed specifically for colicky babies, such as Colimil, could be tried (read the label to ensure that it can be given to babies).
Sucrose has been used recently for pain relief for procedures, such as blood taking, in infants. Sucrose (and glucose) release natural endorphins in babies.
Research says: Recent studies have shown that sucrose ( 2 ml of 12.5%) and glucose (1 ml of 30% glucose) have reduced crying in infants and that mothers have felt there has been an improvement in symptoms in their babies.
Dr Maud says: This is a safe and relatively cheap intervention and is worth trying. It is important to use the sucrose (or glucose) for a limited time when your baby has colic (so up to 4 months of age or so).
In the long term, it is important for your child to have a healthy diet and not have a sweet tooth (so regular sucrose for crying throughout childhood is not advised).
Research says: Studies have shown a reduction in colic when probiotics (such as Lactobacillus) were added to the formula.
Dr Maud says: Probiotics are natural and generally safe. It's worth trying probiotics as a colic treatment to see if they work in your baby. Check dosing on the label.
Research says: Lactase is the enzyme that digests lactose, the milk protein. Studies have not reliably shown that lactase drops improve colic symptoms.
Dr Maud says: A one week trial of lactase drops is unlikely to cause any ill effects. However, lactose intolerance is not usually the cause of colic symptoms in babies.
There are several studies looking at changing the milk (to hydrolysed formula, soy milk or lactose-free formula) as a colic treatment.
Research says: Individual studies have shown some benefit from changes in feeding but most of the studies have not been absolutely conclusive. The best evidence in colic treatment is for whey hydrosylate formula.
Dr Maud says: If your baby is thriving (gaining weight) there is no reason to change the milk and I would always advise breast-feeding over a change in milk. There is not enough evidence to suggest that breast-feeding mothers should avoid dairy, so you don't need to do that. However, whey or casein hydrolysed formula and lactose-free formula have all been shown to be safe, while soy milk should be avoided in the first 6 months of life because of the phytoestrogens it contains. If you are going to try a change in milk, the evidence supports a whey hydrosylate formula. Give for a 1 week trial and then try stopping. To read more on milk allergy, click here
Mothers were advised to reduce stimulation by not patting, lifting or jiggling the baby or by reducing noise. They were also given permission to leave the baby to cry if they felt stressed.
Research says: One study has shown a reduction in colic from advice to reduce stimulation. On the other hand, advice to increase carrying of the baby has not been shown to decrease colic symptoms.
Dr Maud says: I would agree that calm handling of babies is better than over stimulation. If you are feeling stressed, it is also important you have a break.
Research says: There is conflicting evidence with studies that show a reduction in colic with spinal manipulation and studies that don't show a reduction in colic, so more research is needed on spinal manipulation as a colic treatment. There are no research studies on cranial osteopathy.
Dr Maud says: I've seen spinal manipulation work for crying in my nephew and niece. Make sure you see an appropriately trained chiropractor - my sister takes her children to my sister-in-law!
Many mothers notice their baby falls asleep during car rides and so research has looked at car ride simulators as a colic treatment.
Research says: There was no difference in crying time in those babies who were given a simulated car ride compared to babies whose mothers were given general advice.
Dr Maud says: I would not advise spending money on a car ride simulator even if your baby falls asleep in the car. Try the less expensive options for colic treatment.
Research says: Dicyclomine has been shown to reduce colic symptoms but it has also been associated with severe side effects.
Dr Maud says: Do not use Dicyclomine for colic or any other condition in a baby under 6 months. The risk of serious side effects outweighs any possible benefit from this drug in infants.
Last reviewed 11 July 2010
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