Parents could be crying with relief as researchers identify a simple treatment for colic

Kim Hutchinson with her three-month old baby Celia, who cries for hours with colic.
Kim Hutchinson with her three-month old baby Celia, who cries for hours with colic.  Photo: Chris Hopkins

Awake in the night, Kim Hutchinson would scour the internet for something – anything – to make her young daughter stop crying.

There's a bawling baby, and there's a child with colic.

Babies with the condition cry more than three hours a day, at least three days a week, for three weeks or longer.

Frustratingly for parents, the cause of colic in otherwise-healthy infants remains a mystery.

"When a baby is crying for hours and hours on end it is almost a form of torture," Ms Hutchinson said.

The Melbourne mother of two recently gave birth to Celia, aged almost three months, who often cries for hours and hours on end.

"You try everything," said Ms Hutchinson.

"Is there a sleeping bag that will assist? Do I hold them upright? Do I put them in a bouncer? Do I put them on the side?"

"You are awake at 4am, Googling, like all the other mums out there."


Now Australian researchers have discovered something that offers some hope – at least if your baby is being breastfed.

It is also something desperate parents can try immediately.

Research led by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne published this week has found that a probiotic called Lactobacillus reuteri can help reduce crying and fussing in some babies.

Lead author, paediatrician Dr Valerie Sung, said the study found that breastfeeding babies who were given the probiotic reduced crying after 21 days by an an average of almost 50 minutes a day, compared to those who did not have the treatment.

"I guess for parents, that is a significant change and relief," Dr Sung said.

"But parents should also realise this is not a cure, it may help some babies stop crying for some time. It does not mean that things with be fixed overnight."

The treatment could not be proven to be effective in formula-fed infants, however, with further research needed on the topic. One theory behind the different response is that breastfed and formula-fed infants have different gut flora.

Dr Sung said the Lactobacillus reuteri probiotic was available in Australia, although parents would probably have to ask their pharmacist to order it in.

"If they are worried about the babies crying, they should still see their GP, because the doctor should exclude any underlying medical cause," she said.

"And they should also think about stopping it once the period of crying is over, because, although we know this probiotic is very safe in the short term, we don't yet have information about long-term effects."