A study published last month in the journal Pediatrics looked at the use of probiotics in the treatment of unexplained irritability in breast fed infants. Researchers treated one group of miserable babies with the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri and another group with simethicone, the active ingredient in most infant gas drops. 95% of the group treated with the probiotics were noted to respond with significantly less crying within 7 days. Only 7% of the simethicone group showed a similar response.
So what is it about probiotics that could potentially make some miserable babies at ease? Inflammation can trigger painful dysmotility or spasm of the intestinal tract. The well-known anti-inflammatory properties of probiotics could be countering the allergic effects of proteins encountered by these babies. It’s possible that a natural imbalance of intestinal flora could explain the misery of some babies. And L. reuteri has been shown to inhibit visceral pain which may explain why babies may feel better but doesn’t explain why they were in pain to begin with. All of this, of course, may be irrelevant to a mother working on 4 hours of sleep.
Irrespective of why the babies in this study felt better, the results are thought provoking and leave us with as many questions as answers. Structuring studies that deal with slippery topics like colic is tricky business. More placebo-controlled studies will help define the role of probiotics in treating screaming babies.
L. reuteri is available in infant drops through Biogaia, a Swedish biotechnology interest that produces probiotics for companies manufacturing functional foods.