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Acupuncture may alleviate colic in infants, study suggests

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Acupuncture given by nurses may be an effective treatment option for babies with infantile colic – defined as those who cry for more than three hours a day on three or more days of the week – a Swedish study has suggested.

The researchers, whose findings are published in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine, highlighted that excessive crying in babies is an issue for up to one in five families.

“Acupuncture may be an effective treatment option”

Study authors

They noted that acupuncture was associated with relieving pain, restoring gut function, and inducing calm and, as a result, wanted to see if it might also resolve excessive crying in colicky babies.

They compared two types of acupuncture with standard care alone in 147 babies whose colic was confirmed at statutory routine check-ups in four child health centres in Sweden.

All the babies were aged between two and eight weeks and were otherwise healthy. They had all been given a cow’s milk exclusion diet for at least five days in a bid to curb excess crying or fussing.

Alongside usual care at their regular child health clinic, the infants visited a study clinic twice a week for two weeks. Each child was randomly allocated to one of three groups.

One group received standard minimal acupuncture at one acupuncture point (L14) for two to five seconds without stimulation, those in a second group were given tailored acupuncture at a maximum of five acupuncture points for up to 30 seconds with mild stimulation, and a third group received none.

The procedure was carried out by nurses and midwives trained in acupuncture. In all, 144 babies completed the two-week trial.

Parents were asked to keep a detailed diary of how often and how long their child cried. Time spent crying excessively fell in all three groups, which is not unexpected as colic tends to clear up by itself eventually, noted the researchers.

But the magnitude of the reported reduction was greater in those given either type of acupuncture than it was in those given standard care alone, they said.

In addition, a significantly higher proportion of babies in the acupuncture groups no longer fulfilled the criteria for colic, compared with those in the standard care group, after two weeks of treatment.

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During the second week of the trial, 16 babies in the first group still had infantile colic, compared with 21 in the second group and 31 in the control group.

Parents continued to record bouts of crying for six days after their final clinic visit, and these differences in outcome between the three groups were still evident then.

The babies seemed to tolerate acupuncture fairly well, said the study authors. Out of 388 treatments given, the baby did not cry at all on 200 occasions, and cried for less than a minute on 157 occasions.

Only 31 treatments triggered a crying jag of more than one minute. A single drop of blood was evident in 15 treatments.

The authors, from Lund University, stated: “Fussing and crying are normal communications for a baby, therefore a reduction to normal levels (rather than silence) is the goal of treatment.”

They emphasised that parents should record how long their baby cries to see if it is excessive and then try eliminating cow’s milk from their feeds before seeking further help.

However, they concluded: “For those infants that continue to cry for more than three hours/day, acupuncture may be an effective treatment option.”

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