Published October 27, 2015
From a quick Internet search, you might think there are scores of proven treatments for the distressing crying jags of colicky babies.
But you'd be wrong, according to a new report that takes a piercing look at dietary supplements and other alternative therapies often touted to relieve colic.
"Having now looked at the evidence in terms of complimentary medicines, it is difficult to say that there is any effective treatment out there," Rachel Perry, a researcher at Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, UK, told Reuters Health.
"We need a bit more research before you go out and spend your money on this."
The mother of two kids who used to cry inexplicably for hours, Perry said she is sympathetic to the plights of new parents with colicky infants.
"I tried loads of things, because I was so desperate," she said. "I can see why parents are driven mad by it."
Baby colic is a common condition, affecting as many as a quarter of young infants. Yet the underlying reasons remain mysterious, and there are no safe and effective treatments.
Fortunately, the crying -- which can last for hours every day -- usually disappears when the baby is a few months old, and the condition is harmless, experts say.
In the meantime, distressed parents might be scouring the Internet for help.
The new report, published in the journal Pediatrics, summarizes all the complementary and alternative medicines as well as nutritional supplements for colic -- including herbal extracts, sugar water, probiotics, massage and reflexology.
The researchers found 15 studies of 944 babies that had tested these treatments against inactive treatments.
There were some signs that fennel had a positive effect. For instance, one study found that 65 percent of babies who got fennel seed oil dissolved in water before meals were cured of their colic. That compared to 24 percent of those who just got water.
Similar results were found in another study of herbal tea that included fennel, chamomile and other herbs.
But the studies were few and far between, and none of the studies were scientifically solid, the researchers found. Some included very few children, and others allowed the parents to see the kind of treatment their babies had, which could sway the results.
"It's like a drug trial, you wouldn't just trust one very small trial on a medication," Perry said. "It's not to say these things wouldn't work, we just don't know."
Her colleague Dr. Edzard Ernst, who heads the department of complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School and led the new work, said the best advice is to stay away from alternative colic therapies at this point.
"The condition is benign and self-limiting," he told Reuters Health in an email. "So, tender loving care may well be the best approach."