Do Alternative Cures for Colic Really Work?

A new survey of scientific research confirms what doctors have been telling sleep-deprived, stressed-out parents about alternative treatments for colicky babies: There’s just no straightforward cure for colic.

Nutritional Supplements and Other Complementary Medicines for Infantile Colic: A Systematic Review,” published in the April 2011 issue of Pediatrics, identified more than 1500 relevant studies published in electronic databases through February 2010 -- and found just a handful that were well-designed, says Ari Brown, pediatrician, AAP spokesperson and author of the Expecting 411 book series. And even in the most promising studies, alternative treatments worked for some babies, but not others. “The CAM [complementary and alternative medicines] therapies investigated did not significantly reduce the symptoms of colic, and further research is needed in finding a successful treatment,” the authors concluded.

Even so, some things seem to work better than others. The CAM study review found that fennel extract, herbal tea (with chamomile, licorice, fennel and balm mint) and a sugar solution were most effective in relieving symptoms of colic; other treatments, like probiotic supplements, massage and reflexology, had inconclusive results.

If your babe is suffering from colic, Brown first recommends this standard of care:

Mark Your Calendar. Prepare to cope with your colicky baby until she’s 3 months old.

Get Moving. Some babies seem to respond to motion. Go for a car ride or put your little one in the stroller.

Cry for Help. Line up help from good friends and family to help tend to your baby during her unhappy hours. Colicky babies suffer more abuse than non-colicky babies because the constant crying is so stressful for parents.

In spite of the lack of compelling data for CAM therapies, Brown also recommends gripe water, a ginger and fennel solution that can relax the intestine and ease a baby’s discomfort (commercial versions like Colic Calm and Little Tummys, are labeled with dosing information,) and probiotics. Known to help the intestines break down food, probiotics seem to bring relief to some babies. In one study in the review, 95 percent of parents whose colicky babies received probiotics reported an improvement in colic, compared to just 7 percent whose babies received Mylicon, Brown says.

Still, she cautions parents to first make sure their child truly has colic. Reflux, heartburn and milk protein allergies are often mistaken for colic because they too make for such an unhappy baby. She also recommends against looking for miracle cures on your own. “If there’s something you want to try, definitely run it past your child’s doctor,” she says.

While colic can be maddening for parents, there is one comfort. “Your colicky baby will be fine,” Brown says. “There’s no correlation between colic and disposition later in life. They do turn out to be really nice kids."

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