10/23/2014 00:01 EDT | Updated 12/22/2014 05:59 EST

Colic in babies reduced with probiotics, Canadian study finds

Babies with colic cry excessively and inconsolably but giving them probiotics could help with bouts of fussiness, according to new Canadian research.

"Infantile colic" describes infants who are otherwise healthy but show bouts of irritability, fussiness or crying, that lasts three hours a day for three days a week for three weeks. There are few treatments proven to help the condition that is a major concern for many parents.

Now researchers from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto have shown that probiotics can significantly reduce colic in breastfed Canadian infants.

"Our study provides evidence from North America that supplementation of probiotics in early infancy is effective in managing colic symptoms," Dr. Gideon Koren, director of the Motherisk program at SickKids and his co-authors conclude in Thursday’s online issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

An estimated five to 40 per cent of infants experience colic, which usually starts around six weeks of age and ends around three or four months.

The study was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, the gold standard for medical research.

In it, 52 babies in Toronto were either randomly assigned to receive five drops of a probiotic called L reuteri DSM 17938 or  sunflower oil as a placebo for 21 days. The probiotic contains beneficial bacteria that are thought to promote the growth of healthy intestinal microbes to improve health.

When the study began, crying and fussing times in the two groups were similar at an average of 131 minutes per day for the probiotic group and 122 minutes per day for the placebo group.

By the end, the researchers said crying and fussing time in the probiotic group was significantly reduced to a median of 60 minutes a day in the treatment group compared with 102 minutes a day in the placebo group.

Babies in both groups showed no side-effects.

 One of the limitations of the study is that the researchers had to rely solely on the mothers’ diary records of how long infants were crying and fussing rather than objective measurements.

The researchers said the findings were largely consistent with previous studies from Italy and Poland.