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Acupuncture might relieve babies’ colic

But first parents should record for how long babies cry, and try eliminating cow’s milk

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Acupuncture could be an effective treatment to reduce excessive crying in babies (infantile colic), research from Sweden has suggested. But the authors of the study,* released online today by the BMJ-published journal Acupuncture in Medicine, said parents should first record for how long their baby actually cries, and if this is excessive try eliminating cow’s milk from their diet.

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden wanted to see whether or not acupuncture – which is recognised to reduce pain, restore gastrointestinal function and have a calming effect – might have positive effects in infantile colic (defined as crying and/or fussing for over  three hours a day for more than three days a week). They set up a randomised controlled, single-blind three-arm study to evaluate and compare the effect of two types of acupuncture versus no acupuncture in infants with colic in public child health centres (CHCs).

Of 426 babies whose parents sought help for colic and registered their child’s fussing/crying in a diary, 157 fulfilled the criteria for colic and 147 started the intervention. All were aged 2-8 weeks, born at term, gaining weight normally and otherwise healthy – and all had already tried excluding cow’s milk protein from their (and breastfeeding mothers’) diet to see whether that would curb excessive crying/fussing.

Babies were randomly assigned to one of three treatment arms: standardised minimal acupuncture at LI4; semi-standardised individual acupuncture inspired by Traditional Chinese Medicine; and no acupuncture. All infants received usual care plus gold standard care – four extra visits to CHCs with advice/support (twice a week for two weeks).

Among the 144 babies who completed the two-week trial, the amount of time spent crying excessively fell in all three groups, as expected because “colic is a spontaneously healing condition”, commented the researchers. But, they found that compared with gold standard care alone, the magnitude of the reduction in crying was greater, suggesting a faster recovery, in infants who received either type of acupuncture. After two weeks, a significantly higher proportion of babies in the treatment groups, compared with the standard care group, no longer fulfilled the criteria for infantile colic; by the second week of the trial, 16 babies in the first group, 21 in the second and 31 in the third still had colic. These differences between groups persisted during the six days following the last visit.

Most babies tolerated acupuncture well – in fewer than half of treatments, babies cried for up to a minute afterwards, and in fewer than one in eight was there more than a minute’s crying.

The study authors pointed out that fussing and crying are normal communications for a baby, so a reduction to normal levels (rather than silence) is the goal of treatment.

They concluded: “Objective measurement of crying and exclusion of cow’s milk protein are recommended as first steps, to avoid unnecessary treatment. For those infants that continue to cry for more than three hours a day, acupuncture may be an effective treatment option. The two styles of MA tested in ACU-COL 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.”

* Landgren K, Hallström I. Effect of minimal acupuncture for infantile colic: a multicentre, three-armed, single-blind, randomised controlled trial (ACU-COL). Acupunct Med 2017. DOI: 10.1136/acupmed-2016-011208.

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