Could Acupuncture Help Cure (or at Least Shorten) a Baby's Colicky Cries?

A study out of Sweden shows acupuncture may be part of the answer for colicky babies.
Konstantin Tronin/Shutterstock

My husband was colicky as a baby, and his parents like to tell a story about the time his mom just couldn't take it anymore, so she picked him up, carried him across the room, and ceremoniously placed him in the garbage can.

I've never been able to puzzle out whether this story is actually true or one that's been embellished over time. But now that I'm a parent myself, I do know this: Frustrated moms and dads will try anything to soothe a colicky baby.

Colic, by the way, is the term we use to describe otherwise healthy babies who cry for more than three hours a day, three or more days a week. The cause is unknown, and no broad-sweeping treatment or medicine is available. But now comes a new study out of Sweden that has revealed acupuncture may be part of the answer.

Acupuncture—the practice of inserting multiple thin needles at specific points on the body—has been associated with stimulating the body's natural healing abilities to relieve pain and promote physical well-being, so Swedish researchers thought maybe it could help soothe colicky babies, too.

For the study, they divided 147 colicky infants into three groups. One group received minimal acupuncture: pricked at one acupuncture point for two to five seconds twice a week for two weeks. The second group received up to five pricks at acupuncture points, for up to 30 seconds twice weekly over the two-week period. The third group received no acupuncture. All the babies had been off cow's milk for at least five days (to help rule out milk allergy as the cause of colic), and the parents kept detailed diaries of how often and how long they cried.

Their findings? After two weeks of treatment, about two-thirds of babies given acupuncture no longer had colic, compared to just over a third of infants who didn't receive the treatment, according to lead researcher Kajsa Landgren.

"Infantile colic heals spontaneously but causes suffering in the infant and stress in the family while it lasts," Landgren said. "Acupuncture shortens this stressful period."

Fair enough. But is sticking needles in your baby even safe? Langren reported that the infants seemed to tolerate the procedure "fairly well," but the notion sounds daunting, to say the least.

Tanya Altmann, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician in Calabasas, California, who was not involved in the study, says she loves the idea of using acupuncture as an adjunct treatment.

"I think it's fine to try, not dangerous, and may help," she told Parents.com. "As long as you go to a reputable acupuncturist, there shouldn't be any side affects or dangers."

Dr. Altmann also explained that while it usually takes a few treatments, the babies don't lay there with needles in them like adults do. Instead, the acupuncturist will put the needle in slightly, twist it, then take it out in a few points on the abdominal area.

"It only takes a few minutes," she explained. "And Baby can be in Mom's arms for treatment."

Of course, colic treatment varies depending on symptoms, so Dr. Altmann would also advise parents to first try comforting their babies via swaddling, rocking, massaging, and addressing any feeding issues.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her websiteholleeactmanbecker.comfor more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter

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