How's this for irony? When colicky babies cry their guts out for hours on end, it might because there really is something wrong with their guts—in the form of an imbalance of intestinal flora that produces painful gassiness, according to a new study from the Netherlands.
Researchers examined stool samples from 12 infants with colic and 12 infants with normal crying patterns and discovered a unique bacterial "signature" in the guts of infants with colic. For starters, colicky babies had higher numbers of proteobacteria compared to babies without colic. Proteobacteria is a group of gut flora known to produce painful gassiness, which in turn can bring on the crying, Carolina de Weerth, a developmental psychologist at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, explains to HealthDay.
Colicky babies also lacked "good bacteria" to balance things out—stool samples from colicky babies contained lower numbers of bifdobacteria and lactobacilli compared to their calmer counterparts. These beneficial types of intestinal flora have anti-inflammatory effects, which reduce gut inflammation and pain, says de Weerth.
Colic affects up to 25 percent of all infants, with excessive crying peaking around six weeks, and typically disappearing by three to four months. So far, no one has come up with a "cure" for colic. But reading between the lines of this study, could stopping the crying simply be a matter of increasing good flora to cancel out the bad?
Maybe. Other studies over the past few years have looked at the effectiveness of probiotics (good bacteria) supplements for colicky babies—and so far the results sound promising, according to a New York Times report.
In a study from 2007, for example, Italian researchers looked at 83 colicky babies who were breastfed. Some of the infants were given simethicone, a gas-relieving medication; the others were given a supplement containing L. reuteri, a beneficial bacteria often found in yogurt. After 28 days, babies who received the probiotic cried an average of 51 minutes a day, compared with about two and a half hours (150 minutes) in the other group. Another study conducted in 2010 produced similar results.
"One hundred fewer minutes of crying?" says Amber Wheeler, a Colorado mom with a colicky two-month old. "We'll take it!"
Of course, it's best to check with your doctor before experimenting with a probiotic (some breastfeeding moms may try eating yogurt as a way to boost probiotics in milk). And remember, there are no shortage of other tricks to help quell the crying, including swaddling, white noise, and gently rocking your baby.
Still, knowing that there could be—maybe, just maybe—a way to stop colic before it even starts?
"Just the thought of that makes me want to cry... tears of joy!" says Wheeler.