Acupuncture could help reduce crying in babies with colic, says a new study. Unfortunately, there are still lots of unanswered questions about how effective the treatment may be.

What is colic?

Colic is the name for regular, excessive crying in babies under 6 months who are otherwise healthy. Although the condition is common, there are no clear causes and it can be distressing for parents to witness.

What happened during the study?

The study, published in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine, revealed that babies who were given acupuncture appeared to cry less than those who were comforted using traditional techniques alone, such as cuddling and burping.

The researchers at Lund University in Sweden randomly assigned 157 babies into three treatment groups: no acupuncture (traditional care); minimal acupuncture according to Western understanding about the nervous system; and acupuncture based on traditional Chinese medicine.

All of the babies in the trial:

– were aged two to eight weeks
– met the criteria for colic – crying at least three hours per day, and at least three days a week
– had healthy weight gain and growth
– had been fed on a diet free from cow’s milk protein from breastfeeding mothers or formula for a minimum five days, to rule out allergies

So, what were the results? Did acupuncture ease colic symptoms?

At the end of the trial it was found that babies who received acupuncture cried for an average of 40 minutes less than those who didn’t.

No severe side effects were reported, but three-quarters of the babies cried during treatment – perhaps defeating the object of acupuncture as a method for reducing excessive crying.

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The researchers concluded: “For those infants that continue to cry more than three hours a day [after cow’s milk had been eliminated from their diet], acupuncture may be an effective treatment option. The two styles of [acupuncture] tested in [the trial] had similar effects; both reduced crying in infants with colic and had no serious side effects.

“However, there is a need for further research to find the optimal needling locations, stimulation and treatment intervals.”

Treating colic at home

Don’t fancy trying acupuncture? There are a number of traditional soothing techniques for colic that you can try at home. While none of these have been backed by scientific research, many parents have used them to varying success.

Home colic treatments:

– Cuddling and rocking your baby
– Carrying them in a sling or baby carrier
– Burping baby well after every feed
– Giving them a warm bath
– Giving baby a gentle tummy massage in a clockwise direction (you can perfect your skills at a local baby massage class)
– Using ‘white noise’ produced by an un-tuned radio, vacuum cleaner or a hairdryer
– Giving colic drops such as Infacol before feeds to help relieve wind
– Feeding in an upright position to reduce air swallowing and trapped wind
– If you are breastfeeding, avoid caffeinated drinks and foods. You may also want to avoid gas-causing foods such as onions, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage (particularly if they are raw).